To really succeed in today’s competitive world, innovation is a necessary leadership skill. As we prepare for the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Week November 13 -17, I encourage organizations to buck the mindset of doing business the way “it has always been done". Becoming an innovative leader allows for out-of-the-box thinking and can catapult your company ahead of the competition.
Take these steps to become an innovative leader who inspires your team to take risks, experiment, and grow.
1. Forget About Best Practices
Thinking in terms of best practices can restrict creativity and innovative thinking. Instead, encourage employees to take risks and experiment. After all, what are best practices but things that others have done that worked out well at the time? Very few things work the same way today as they did 20, 10, even 3 years ago. Make sure that your organization isn’t becoming complacent and using best practices as a crutch to avoid critical thinking and creative problem-solving.
When someone on your team discovers a new way of doing things that can have a broader impact on how others work, share and implement this information! New ideas and processes are best bred in an environment where they are cultivated by open-mindedness and experimentation.
But, experimentation means that there will be failures. You and your team need to make the best decisions you can about how a new idea might—and might not—work. But, remember, failure is a part of innovation. You learn from failure as much as you learn from success.
2. Accelerate Decision Making
Decision making is a critical skill of the innovative leader. Leaders make decisions every day, from the important to the mundane. However, innovative leaders make decisions differently than most. They are able to make quick decisions without having all of the information because they have confidence and trust in their team. They may not completely understand the full story of the decision, and sometimes they don’t fully agree with the course of action being presented. But, they are able to make decisions that rely on the experiences and expertise of their team.
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, believes in the “disagree and commit” process. Rather than try to get 100% consensus on all decisions, team members need to be able to communicate their disagreement with a specific decision, but then commit themselves to the decision fully.
This is a critical concept that will quickly move initiatives and the organization forward.
3. Get Out Of The Way
Innovative leaders know when to make themselves part of an initiative or problem and they know when to get out of the way and let their team take it on.
As the boss, you may be a barrier that restricts innovation in the average workplace. Are you more likely to say “no” to new ideas? Do you tend to take over projects to make sure they are done the way you want them to be done? Are you more focused on processes than outcomes? If so, you need to take the difficult step of getting out of the way in order to become an innovative leader.
You’ve worked hard to hire and train the right talent and develop your team, so recognize when it is time to let your team take over and work through projects on their own. It provides your team the opportunity to take on new responsibilities, learn new ideas, and develop new skills that will only make them better contributors in the long run.
Will there be mistakes? Yes. But, mistakes ALWAYS happen. If you truly want to become an innovative leader, you need to step out of the way and put your trust in your team’s ability to succeed.
This does not mean that you can’t oversee the outcomes of what they are working on. Plan on periodic or milestone updates on the initiative and agree up-front on what will be tracked and what success looks like.
4. Become Failure Tolerant
To become an innovative leader, you must work on becoming more failure tolerant. This is different than accepting failure as a norm.
If an employee or team is genuinely working hard on an innovative project that just ends up falling flat, you have to be able to let them get over that failure, coach them through learning from it and remove the fear of future failure. Successful innovative teams will take the lessons they’ve learned from their failure and turn them into strengths for the next project. If you create an environment in which they are afraid to fail, teams will simply stop taking the risks necessary to move your organization forward.
Accepting failure is a different story. Employees or teams that fail due to lack of planning, commitment, collaboration, or laziness should not be an acceptable norm. This has the opposite effect on becoming an innovative organization.
5. Reward and Recognize
What gets rewarded gets repeated. If you want to develop an innovative team that is able to think outside the box and take risks to develop new products, processes, technologies, etc. you must be able to recognize and reward the work they put into making those innovations come to life.
Some innovative leaders have been known to even reward failures when appropriate. Google has failure rewards in place to encourage their people to think outside the box and try more innovative ideas without fearing for their reputation or careers.
Becoming an innovative leader is a journey that takes time to complete. Many leaders have formed certain habits that help them keep track of the performance of the organization, but may ultimately be stunting their growth.
How do you inspire innovation? If you need additional tools and tips on innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership and risk taking, join us at the Global Entrepreneurship Week Kansas City. Visit www.GEWKC.org for more information. Or, contact Joy to receive focused support for your organization.