Leadership: Creating a climate for innovation

Article 1 - 1 May 2013Leadership competencies for creating a climate for innovation focus more on how to instill values than on traditional management skills. Survey respondents believe their leaders possess broad competencies for leading innovation in this sense. Almost half said establishing a compelling vision for their people and creating a climate open to new ideas and change are most important.

Successfully leading large and complex organizations requires whole leaders – those who use their heads, demonstrate heart, and act with guts. The appropriate balance among the three types of competencies is situational: When data is plentiful and reliable, the head dominates, but when decisions must be made with little or no data, guts and heart become more important. So it takes whole leaders with all three types of competencies to drive sustained innovation in a constantly changing environment.

In this regard, executives surveyed say the most important competencies are these:

  • Head – establishing clarity of purpose. Leaders need to make a personal commitment to innovation,communicate what it means inside the company, and lead by example, emphasizing innovation in their dayto- day decisions.
  • Heart – cultivating an open and supportive environment. Leaders must have the ability to build trust and mutual respect with employees, foster open airing of problems and disagreements, and solve conflict in creative ways.
  • Guts – facilitating idea generation. Leaders should challenge people to consider alternative approaches and give them time and resources to pursue innovative ideas.

Almost every interviewee at highly innovative companies agreed that there is not just a need but a responsibility to hear every idea, however contrary to others. They have widely differing views about how creative disagreement can be harnessed as a positive force, but almost none of them describe this process as “conflict management,” since disagreements are expected, and even valued, as long as all players keep their eyes on the company’s strategic objectives.


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