Delivering successful innovation is like conducting an orchestra where there is only an outline for the notes to be played and a statement of intent to deliver something innovative. How does a leader make successful new music out of that!? Leading innovation can be also like playing Jazz… the leader starts and then the lead swings from one member of the ensemble (team) to another. Each time, collaboration, listening, and alignment around a goal creates original and an engaging fabric of music. Ideally, leadership for innovation should be much like making music.
There are innovation leaders who do succeed like conductors and instrumentalist with special expertise. There are books that describe how they did it. It is my hope here to distill several key characteristics that seem to make for leadership success at the front end of innovation.
The people you lead will want to know that they are working on problems worth solving aligned with organization strategy – the charter. They will need to know that you are championing the work they are doing and by doing so, giving them the best possible chance for success. You will need to impart trust and confidence in the team that they have the ability to do the hard work of innovation both as individuals and in teams. You will need to provide guidance without micro-managing. You will need to cultivate a style of leadership that relies less on top down authority and more on orchestration of all the moving parts with informal facilitation that builds community.
Cultivate climate for innovation
The people you lead will want to know that you encourage debate because there is more than one right answer and many challenges that must be understood in depth before determining possible options from which to make progress. They will need time and space to test, reflect and adjust – the key to iterative learning and growth. They will need to know that you appreciate detail and that you have a tolerance for ambiguity and capacity for flexibility until the time is right for decisiveness. They will need to see you model decision making process that is inclusive of all points of view and results in the team feeling that the decision being made is the right decision.
Effective innovation requires transparency about process and problems. The people you lead need to know that you respect their process and expect it to be discovery -driven. It’s about discerning and respecting the value of process. Your people need to know that you are with them in hard times as well as good times. They need to know that you can accept failure as an option not a fault especially when they are doing the best that they can.
My new year’s wish for your 2016 is that you will indeed make wonderful innovation music. That you will indeed create shared purpose. That you will develop and sustain a climate for innovation. That you will stay the course, in the roles of conductor, member of the orchestra with special skills, and also as manager, to deliver innovation that is resonant with success.