10 Mental Traits of Truly Innovative Leaders

neil-patel-1By Neil Patel

Recognizing patterns

A good innovative leader will blend information from different sources to come up with solutions and products. If you want to get really good at this, you should:

  • Look at lots of sources of data and ideas and seek out the associations.
  • Encourage those around you to do the same.
  • Question conventional thinking and constantly get into the habit of developing different theories on how you can do something better.


Great innovative leaders develop what is called peripheral vision. This is the ability to look not just ahead, but up and down the vertical you are working in and across into very different verticals.

Here are some tips to help you do that:

  • Try to find information that could change the way you do business or the way your industry does business.
  • Look past all of your current boundaries.
  • Create networks of people who are also looking out at the peripheral to help you scan for opportunities. These reciprocal relationships work best with people not in your industry.


Innovative leaders question everything. And to develop this certain skill, you have to do this:

  • Instead of looking at surface problems, try to figure out what is the root cause of that problem. You are more likely to uncover a profitable solution that way than the other way.
  • Challenge established and popular mindsets and beliefs. This includes your own!
  • Do not stand for hypocrisy or manipulation in your organization, especially when it is related to the creativity and execution of ideas.


True innovative thinkers know that you are never going to get everyone on board all the time. It’s so rare, so you need to make sure it is safe for everyone to discuss issues and ideas out in the open, building trust with your peers, those below you and those above you. This minimal collaboration will lead to efficiency and spread of ideas. This is how you pull that off:

  • Discover other people’s motives and goals, both professionally and personally. When you understand their agenda it is easier to coordinate.
  • Confront difficult issues no matter how hard it may be or how uncomfortable you may make people.
  • Make sure you know the risks behind your ideas in detail so you can share and explain to other people who you will need to depend upon to build your support.


True innovative leaders never stop learning. They are very curious people and are often reading or researching. These types of leaders are also good at creating a culture where learning is very important and everyone is encouraged to do it. This also means that you value and encourage risk…in the face of certain failure. Failure is not a bad thing…but can actually be a school room.

To encourage this kind of behavior in yourself and others:

  • Create a culture where honesty is valued and feedback is welcome. People need to feel safe in this environment so that when it is time to debrief on successes and failures people are prepared.
  • Have a celebration when your team succeeds…and even celebrate at times when you fail at something that was very risky, but you were proud of at least trying.
  • Change direction the moment you realize that you are off track.


If you want to become better at experimenting, try this:

  • Tinker with new technologies the moment they are released. This could be a new social media platform or an actual gadget that has come out, like a new type of camera.
  • Travel to different places and experiment living like other people. See how they solve their problems.
  • Observe how other people go about experimenting and try to learn techniques from them.


True innovative thinkers will land upon a project and see it to it’s completion. They may have dozens of ideas in their head or paper, but there are single-minded about one or two specific projects.

To do this mental trait well, you need to:

  • Count the cost carefully before you jump into any new project. This may be as simple as writing down pros and cons. I’ve found that the act of writing an idea down will sometimes help me to dismiss it immediately so I can move on to more productive things.
  • Be comfortable when you don’t have complete information in some situations and make a decision.


Whether they are naturally outgoing or not, innovative thinkers tend to be really good about meeting people, especially those they have little in common with. They see the value in knowing lots of people with different backgrounds and experiences. It’s like they view that network as their extended brain and creativity power that they can tap into any time.

If you want to make this mental trait more effective:

  • Join different clubs and association in your local area. And don’t forget that they don’t have to be all related to your business. You can join a science fiction book club or a rock climbing gym. Both of these will expose you to different people who you wouldn’t normally meet.
  • Join social media and use it.


They have faith in themselves to succeed and work hard with razor sharp focus on tasks. The downside is that sometimes they are the last ones to give up…even in the face of certain defeat.One thing that I love about innovative thinkers and leaders is that they never give up. Even when they’ve failed or fallen to their lost point, they get back up and try again.

Innovative leaders will stick with it until they win.

  • Set time limit goals that will help stretch your normal level or risk and work. A good deadline will give you something to shoot for and motivate you to keep working even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Have someone hold you accountable to results. This could be a spouse or a good friend. This person should have the courage to tell you the truth.
  • Remind yourself that success takes a really long time, and each time you feel like things are working remind yourself that success could be just over the hill.


You may be a natural born pessimist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become more positive with these techniques:

  • Avoid bad news and negative opinions. Instead, focus on reading and watching about successful people. This includes people who’ve overcome huge odds whether it was physical, mental or financial.
  • Challenge your pessimism. When you get cynical about a situation, try to look for the silver lining. Is there something you can take advantage of in that circumstance?
  • Hang out with people who are optimistic and will hold you accountable when you are negative.

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