An organization’s leadership plays a fundamental role in driving innovation within that organization. Leaders set the tone for their organizations through what they say and what they do, from the head of the organization to first-level managers. Innovation needs to be talked about, emphasized, and showcased by leaders.
Empathy, Leadership, and Innovation
Great leaders possess the ability to empathize. Empathy allows leaders to understand their employees and customers while providing insights into inspiring and motivating their teams. Empathy is a skill that can be learned and enhanced and design thinking provides a methodology to discover and build empathy skills in organizations at all levels.
Leading with empathy can foster greater respect, understanding within teams, and the ability to collaborate better which leads to understanding different perspectives. This unique insight into different perspectives often provides the path to new ideas, products, and services that are new and innovative.
Developing and practicing empathy is the first step to becoming the type of leader that drives innovation across an organization. To further improve your leadership innovation capabilities consider implementing the following practices, processes, and policies.
Develop & Communicate a Clear Innovation Vision
As a leader, developing and effectively communicating a clear innovation vision is critical to driving innovation within your organization. The innovation vision should be a simple statement that defines what it will achieve for your company. It should be realistic and easy to understand and remember. Creating an innovation vision involves three key steps: identifying the challenges, defining the opportunities, defining the direction, and implementation.
Ensure a High Degree of Collaboration & Communication
Creating the vision alone is not enough to fully realize your leadership innovation score, to do this you must involve your team in the development of your organization’s vision. Employees at all levels will be able to give an honest assessment of the issues hindering the company from driving innovation within their respective roles or contexts.
Once the issues facing the organization have been identified, employ co-creation to allow employees, and end-users when possible, an opportunity to suggest solutions to the challenges. Direct employees and end-users towards solutions that provide a complete change of the situation to make the challenges non-issues.
Maintain this collaborative approach to defining direction. The direction you take is determined by the solutions you choose to actualize. Choose the best three or four solutions from the assessment. The solutions chosen represent the company’s innovation goals and a plan showing how the goals will be achieved. Through this process, employees become more responsible for their work since they know the direction and goal of their work.
Embrace & Learn From Mistakes
If the initial solutions chosen during your collaborative problem solving don’t work, don’t quit the co-creation process. Organizational learning, the process of creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge within an organization, has been shown to positively affect employee performance. The process of working together towards a common goal makes team members more receptive to challenges, difficulties, and changes.
The growing acceptance of failure is changing the way organizations approach innovation. Leaders who make a conscious effort to communicate to employees the value of learning from mistakes as an important part of improving and changing existing organizational practices, tend to see greater innovation capacity among their employees. Failure-tolerant leaders don’t just accept failure; they encourage it. Through their words and actions, these leaders can help people overcome their fear of failure and in the process create a culture of intelligent risk-taking that leads to sustainable innovation.
Incentivize & Reward Innovation
Beyond being tolerant and accepting of failure, leaders can find ways to incentivize and reward innovative thinking and problem solving. An organization can’t develop a breakthrough product or process if it’s not willing to encourage risk-taking and reward the results. When an employee takes the initiative to work collaboratively, take a risk, or think outside the box, leaders must acknowledge and applaud this behaviour. Rewarding people for bringing forward, building on top of and implementing innovative ideas, helps get the idea across that innovation is a priority for the organization.
When leaders practice and promote collaboration, communication, risk tolerance, and incentivize performance they will dramatically improve the innovation capacity of their organization and team.
Take our Innovation Maturity Model Assessment to identify other opportunities for your organization to increase innovation.