I am often asked to develop leaders to be more innovative, but behind that desire, it is less clear what organisations are expecting leaders do to encourage innovation. In my experience innovative leaders have the following characteristics in common:
(1) They understand what sort of innovation is needed
The word innovation gets thrown around offices a lot but how many people actually understand what that means they need to do? Does the business want to innovate in a disruptive manner or just incrementally? Are you looking to innovate around products or processes or some other aspect of the business?
The process of innovation is to use a person’s creativity to enhance the performance of that person, the team or the organisation as a whole – but where do you want that creativity to be focused?
Leaders who are successful in innovating know what their business wants to achieve and translates that so that their team is clear about what is expected of them.
If a manager doesn’t make it clear where creativity is required, employees may focus their efforts on something that isn’t important at that time, limiting both their own potential and the overall business benefit.
(2) They switch off auto-pilot
Everyone has likely been in the situation where they get to work and have no recollection of their journey. This is because many routine tasks we do each day are completed on our auto-pilot setting as they require little thought and effort, leaving no room for imagination.
Although this process of switching off may be beneficial when completing monotonous tasks, it can also limit us by stopping us from being innovative and creative at times when there are opportunities for improvement.
Leaders need to take a step back from what they’re doing every now and again and ask themselves whether they’re doing what they should be doing in order to create value and encourage innovation.
If members of staff see their own leaders switching off the auto-pilot and consciously thinking about potential improvements to the business, they are likely to also adopt this way of thinking.
(3) Create solid relationships
Having strong relationships between members of staff is key to a number of business processes, one of which is innovation. When trusting relationships exist between members of staff, people are more likely to feel comfortable expressing their ideas and thoughts.
In order to create such relationships with team members, leaders should take time out of their day to speak to their team and show interest in what they do, both inside and outside of work. These conversations don’t need to be lengthy, and you should welcome any ideas they suggest; big or small.
If managers adopt these three principles, they are creating an environment where innovation can be nurtured.
It may not happen straight away, as it takes time for these approaches to filter down through the organisation, but if business leaders highlight the benefits of being more open and conscious of innovative ideas, other employees will gradually follow suit with open minds to become a part of the change.
Stephen Fortune is principal consultant at The Oxford Group