Success in the innovation game requires strong innovation leadership. But there is confusion about what defines leadership. To understand leadership, we need to boil it down to the essence – what it is and what it isn’t. We need to identify a key leadership skill and determine how this skill can elicit success. There are leaders who stand out in my mind. They have had an effect on me through my career and life. They have one common leadership skill: influence.
What It’s Not
I’ve had the title of Chief Technology Officer at HP. Now I have the title of CEO leading 200 bright and motivated people. But a title does not make a leader. Some may think leadership is directing people in what to do. It’s assigning tasks, then watching from on high while others do the work. That is not leadership. There are those who confuse leadership with micromanagement. They expect their managers to clear every decision with them before they make it. That is not leadership. How do you distinguish true leaders from managers, supervisors or those who just have control?
Essence of Leadership
Leadership is about inspiring others. It’s about motivating others to achieve success beyond what they could’ve ever imagined. One leader who’s inspired me is Bob Davis. He hired me in my first real job and became my mentor. He modeled leadership and I was drawn to the projects and teams he led. When I considered what made Bob different from others in management, it came down to leadership skills. His skills in leadership led to success. What made him stand out was his ability to influence.
Leadership isn’t just for managers. It’s essential to any team. You need leadership skills when you are a team contributor, self-leading, and when there is no clear person in charge. That is why leadership is crucial in innovation. Innovation leadership drives innovation from ideas on a whiteboard or in a notebook to something mind-blowing. How do you hone the skills of innovation leadership? Let’s examine one key skill.
Influence is the key skill in innovation leadership.
Two definitions of influence are
- The power to cause change without forcing the change to happen.
- Not making the change happen.
- Not doing the task.
- Not giving the answer.
- A person who affects someone in an important way.
- Someone you admire who has inspired you.
- Someone whose behavior you want to model.
- Could be your spouse, an old boss, a teacher, a professor, a friend.
Attributes of Influence
There are three attributes of influence that leaders have.
- Experience – successful work in the past that is the same or similar to the work at hand.
- Expertise – relevant training (such as college) or working for an expert in the field.
- Past actions – how the leader achieved success and handled failure.
- Thinking beyond self – working for the larger, mutually beneficial goal.
- Follow through – leaders do what they say they’re going to do
How to Influence for Success
Influence is core to innovation leadership. Those who have the ability to elicit positive change have mastered the skill of influence. How can you influence others? It’s a non-obvious answer. The most powerful influence you can have is often not trying to influence.
How to exert influence without authority?
Step One: Understand those you want to influence.
- Learn their motivations, objectives, dreams, fears and desires.
- Craft a win-win. Achieve what you want to achieve while supporting and enabling those you want to influence to reach their objectives.
Step Two: Active listening.
- Shut up and listen.
- Let others feel they are part of the conversation, that they’re contributing.
Step Three: Ask questions.
- Well thought out questions that do not convey an agenda or define a target
- Questions that prompt conversation and allow others to share their opinions, thoughts, experience and expertise.
Innovation needs innovation leadership and influence is the key to success.
What are your criteria for deciding that an idea is worth pursuing? Are your criteria too limiting? For example, if you base your criteria solely on financial projections, you’re going to miss some great concepts. Case in point is Bill Hewlett’s “iPhone of the 70s”. This and other great ideas bypassed restrictive criteria to get off the ground with great results.
Five Minutes to New Ideas
This week’s Five Minutes to New Ideas may cause you to reconsider your criteria and open up the door for that game changing idea to flourish.