As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. As I look back over my career leading innovation teams and organizations, I wish someone had sat me down and shared some of the core fundamentals to innovation leadership.
These “hacks” are part of my core rules that I attempt to follow. I'm not perfect and still stumble but when I look back at the keys to my career, these hacks/actions were key.
5 Innovation Leadership Hacks
#1 – Create A Foundation of Integrity and Transparency: Integrity is foundational to me. Success for an innovation leader depends on trust and that is built on integrity. Without it, you can't convince people to take on the hardest task they've ever done. Recall what you felt when a boss or coworker was dishonest with you. It was hard to trust them — and even harder to follow them. Don't forget about transparency. Transparency is the “verify” side of integrity. Its what keeps you from going off the rails on the integrity. Hard to be sneaky in the bright light of being transparent. Make integrity and transparency part of your innovation culture.
#2 – Create a Sense of Mission: When you are creating an organization that will need to fight the innovation antibodies, you need to make the task a mission. You need to be able to answer the question, “why will this be the most important thing I've ever done?”. One way to word this mission is to frame it as a BHAG (Bold Harry Audacious Goal). Don't give them the “how” but instead create the mission by defining the “what” and “why”. Leave it to your innovators to innovate.
#3 – Be Clear with the Priorities and Objectives: Make sure to set clear innovation objectives. Innovation is already incredibly hard without the confusion of ambiguous fuzzy objectives. Once the objectives are set, show your team how you will prioritize tasks against achieving the objectives. I personally use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize what's urgent and important. I also have created a personal set of priorities that I use to keep myself on track on what is important. I call it the “5 F's” — faith, family, friends, fitness and finance.
#4: Let Others be the Hero: Don't let your ego stumble your innovation leadership efforts. Innovation is a team sport and therefore any success in because of the team – and in spite of your leadership. We all struggle with this. We would like to think that the success comes from the leader but it doesn't. Share the spotlight. Highlight the work of the team. Your role is to help your team succeed — not to get that next promotion, the next raise — the next bonus. Trust me — that will all come. Don't get distracted.
#5: Hire the Radicals: One of my secrets to the success my teams have had is because of the recruiting and nurturing of radicals. These are the people who others will reject. They challenge the organization to think and act differently. These are the people who will make you uncomfortable as a leader. These radicals require protection as the innovation antibodies will be especially focused on them. Why do I think they are so important? They are the fuel to your innovation efforts.
I'm sure I can come up with more hacks but these are the ones that I consider fundamental when it comes to being an innovation leader.
Are there ones that you've developed over the years? What are they and why?
- Leaders in Innovation: How They’re Creating Cultures of Creativity
- How to Create a BHAG That Will Motivate Your Team and Drive Innovation
- Introducing the Eisenhower Matrix