Leading with an Innovation Mindset


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If I were to ask you to pick a leader, either current or from history that you most admire, whom would you choose? If I then went on to ask you why that leader most resonated with you, what would you say?

Not wanting to second guess your answers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the responses were around building billion-dollar organisations, engaging hearts and minds or delivering returns for shareholders. But if I were then to ask you how these traits resonated with innovation leadership, then would you rethink your answers?

And you wouldn’t be alone. PwC’s 2017 Innovation Benchmark [1] revealed that 54% of executives struggle to align innovation strategy with business strategy. Moreover, the single most significant innovation challenge is establishing a leadership culture conducive to innovation.

At the heart of this problem lies the fact that far too much management and leadership training focusses on yesterday’s organisations. So, we may learn about balance sheets and project management, about team leadership, or strategy and communication. And all of these may well be necessary, but what is lacking is any development of an innovation focussed mindset.

In a January 2020 article in Fortune, Genpact CEO Tiger Tyagarajan commented that the key ingredient for today’s innovation CEO is curiosity, going on to say that “inquisitiveness is the key ingredient to driving innovation”. It’s an observation that echoes my thinking in that innovation leadership should look towards Martin Luther King for purpose and Einstein for creativity. The combination of those traits makes leaders more curious, and curiosity leads to exploration.

Without curiosity at the top of organisations, how can you expect your people to be open to developing alternative solutions? Without creativity, how can you develop strategies which look outward to potential rather than inwards towards cost and control?

When leading for innovation, you have to be the person you want your people to be, and that takes a very different style of leadership to that of yesterday.

It’s not too late to change, but every day that goes by without developing an innovation mindset at the top of your organisation is a day in which others are forging ahead. And I do mean forging ahead. In 2017, Cap Gemini’s Digital Culture Challenge revealed that 72% of the front runners’ leaders acted as role models in displaying openness to change and adopting new behaviours, compared with just 20% of followers and 1% of slow movers.

So, if you aren’t leading with an innovation mindset, then no matter what spin you put on it, you are leading a failing organisation.

[1] https://www.pwc.com/us/en/advisory-services/innovation-benchmark-findings.html
[2] https://fortune.com/2020/01/03/genpact-ceo-tiger-tyagarajan-on-leading/?1
[3] https://www.capgemini.com/consulting/wp-content/uploads/sites/30/2017/07/dti_digitalculture_report.pdf

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