When we think about leadership, there are a lot of qualities that come to mind. We imagine people who are charismatic. Good public speakers. We believe that a leader is confident, decisive, and convincing. But one thing we tend to forget about is perhaps the most important trait of all: innovation.
In fact, it’s this oft-overlooked skill that makes the difference between a leader and somebody who just has a hobby of telling people what to do. In this article, we’ll explain why – and how you can leverage innovation to be a better leader.
Innovation is all about the new – when you innovate, you come up with new ideas, processes, devices, methods, and inventions. There are many ways that a business leader can – and should – be innovative, ranging from coming up with a new product or service that becomes the core of a business – what entrepreneurs do – to inventing work processes that aren’t common in the business world.
For example, Uber and Airbnb were major innovators in the transportation and hospitality industries. Philip Morris International, a tobacco company, innovated by embracing healthier habits and pivoting their business to focus on providing alternatives to cigarettes. Dyson, a vacuum company, innovated when they used their technology to create products like fans and hair dryers. Polaroid’s ability to revive their product in the digital age was innovative. You get the idea.
But beyond that, practices like having meetings standing or walking outside to keep things moving (literally), building community within an organization by pairing up random employees for lunch dates, gamifying the workplace, offering unlimited vacation time, and having employees work four days a week instead of five are all examples of innovation at work on the day-to-day level.
With huge companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Intel spending billions of dollars on innovation a year, you may be wondering, “What’s the big deal?”. Can innovation really be the most important skill of all the abilities a leader must have? Yes, and here’s why.
Innovation is what makes an organization stand out from its competitors, and even among the global market. In fact, you probably already know that there’s almost no point in founding a new business if you won’t be able to offer something new to make customers choose you over other, existing options.
The same goes for leadership. The leaders who we remember most are the innovators, the creative thinkers, the ones who aren’t afraid to take a risk and try something new. People like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t known for falling in line. It’s precisely the ability to have creative ideas and the boldness to stand by them that make the difference between an employee and a manager, an entrepreneur and an industry disruptor, a founder and a thought leader.
Innovation is the main force that allows a company to have longevity and succeed in the long run. Because if one thing is certain, it’s change. We’ve seen it even in our lifetimes, with the internet revolution leading to a shift in how nearly everything works. And these types of shifts are the rule, not the exception.
For a business to succeed, it must be able to roll with the punches and be flexible and agile enough to adjust as the world does. And for a leader to be successful, he or she must be able to adapt to everything from employee turnover to changes in cash flow and profit to shifts in their industry to the everchanging moods and whims of day-to-day office life. It’s this agility that leads to growth, improvement, and achievement.
Another inevitable factor in the life of entrepreneurs and business leaders? Problems. That’s right, no matter how talented you are and how well you plan, it is unavoidable that you will inevitably face a challenge (or a thousand) in your career. Whether that’s an untrustworthy employee, a sudden downturn in business, difficulties hiring, or the lunch truck being late to your company event, problems are a part of the game.
When leaders can innovate, they are much better equipped to deal with issues big and small. They are able to stretch resources, work with what they have, come up with new revenue streams, and find a different way to feed 200 hungry employees. When you have a pioneer, trailblazing mindset, you don’t get stuck trying to solve new problems with old tools.
That all being said, how can you grow your innovation as a leader? Here are a few ideas.
When you focus your expertise on one small area of mastery, you miss all sorts of other ideas that you could potentially use in your field. So much of the time, the most innovative ideas are the ones that use a solution or an insight from one domain and apply it to another. The more you can learn about areas of knowledge outside of your lane, the more creative ideas you’ll have.
True leaders know that nobody can go at it alone. Instead of trying to run everything by themselves and relying on their own brain to solve every problem, innovators surround themselves with trustworthy, knowledgable associates who help them – and their company – be the best they can be. After all, more brains equal more ideas.
True innovators aren’t afraid of failure. What they’re afraid of is never taking the chance to try something new. They know the value of taking a risk on a new idea because they are well aware of how rewarding innovation can be when it works. When a new idea or venture fails, great leaders don’t mope; they move on to the next thing, learning from their mistakes.
When it comes to business, an innovative leader never settles for “good enough.” They’re always looking ahead, trying to improve, and brainstorming new ideas. They don’t want a status quo and they never get complacent.
You’ve already taken the first step toward becoming a more innovative leader by reading this article. Now get out there and apply what you’ve learned.