Innovation Leadership is an art because it involves understanding and managing 4 behavioural dimensions which have, until recently, remained hidden. Whilst we are probably familiar with Sun Tzu’s and Marcus Aurelius’s maxims on the importance of self-knowledge, the psychology of Innovation Leadership has not been available in a practical form that could help leaders and organisations, until now when we need it.
Blind Drivers of Innovation
Understanding innovation leadership is a bit like driving a car. At present, most organisations manage their psychology of innovation like drivers of cars who happen to be blind. It is possible to become relatively successful at leading an organisation through the medium of traditional performance measures. These are much like the cues that a blind driver uses to stay in the correct lane on the motorway. By listening to the sound cues of irregular bumping of tyres over cat’s eyes on one side of the car, and the screeching noise of the other side of the car grinding along the side of the oncoming traffic or stationary vehicles or building, a crude form of progress can be managed; even if getting onto and off the motorway is problemmatic. Every year, there are stories of blind drivers in remote rural areas (usually with a child or drunk giving instructions from the passenger seat) being chased and halted by astounded traffic police. It clearly can be done, and is being done, more or less: but does it make sense? And is it acceptable?
Not being in control of your own innovation leadership behaviour as a leader, is like leading your team or organization as though it is a car that you choose to drive with your eyes closed. Most people have no idea what their innovation leadership profile is. They are in effect, blind leaders of innovation. We are probably all familiar with the idea that it is not what leaders say, but how leaders actually behave that has the most impact on organisations, and that it is their behaviour that sends the strongest messages and provides the most powerful cues as to what defines successful performance in the organisation.
The key to successful leadership of innovation begins with understanding
• The 4 Innovation Leadership Behaviours (ILB),
• The limitations of where you are now (in terms of your actual ILB profile)
• The nature of the challenge (in terms of your preferred ILB profile), and
• Being hungry enough to want to change, to take control, to do something about it.
For some leaders, the idea of developing an understanding of their own ILB profiles (actual and preferred) can be intimidating, much as primitive tribes were afraid that photography would steal their souls, or that to study and seek to understand the behavioural patterns might destroy the power of a secret formula by exposing it. But as they say at the Royal Air Force’s Parachute Training School: “Knowledge Dispels Fear”. And this knowledge is essential, and if you have it then it becomes possible to ask yourself:
1.What will it take to move out of efficiency strategies into effectiveness strategies?
2. What can I contribute to making this organisation more successful?
3. What kind of innovation leadership should I be working on?
4. How can I develop myself to make a difference, and become more effective?
The 4 Innovation Leadership Behaviours (ILBs)
For innovation to occur in an organization, you need a mix of at least 4 generic types of Innovating Leadership Behaviours – Creators, Translators, Stabilisors and Navigators. When planned for, encouraged and balanced correctly they can promote and deliver continuous innovation.
Creators - Who provide the source of new, disruptive ideas.
Translators - Who connect new ideas to new opportunities.
Stabilisors - Who build quality delivery systems for products and services.
Navigators - Who anticipate what’s coming, know when to get in, when to get out, and how to manage it.
The 4 Innovating Leadership Behaviours are extreme stereotypes and usually (but not always) I find that leaders’ profiles have proportions of all four in their own characteristic “portfolio” depending on the limitations of their experience, work environment and their natural work preferences.
Understanding the implications of leaders' ILB patterns is a powerful source of information on the limitations of the existing strategy and what is going to be required to move out of efficiency and survival into effectiveness and growth, in difficult times.