5 Strategies to Become an Innovative Leader


By Donna Stevenson

Every contemporary leader faces challenging circumstances and complex issues, regardless of the organization or business environment. These circumstances and issues produce a growing demand for leaders who are capable of being innovative leaders.

What Makes Innovative Leaders Different?

Innovative leaders grasp the entire situation and see the bigger picture, seeing all variables and making decisions around the issues. They have the capacity to think differently about their organization, and they have the skills which allow them to bring new ideas and energy to their role to address challenging situations and find solutions to complex issues. Consequently, they bring more innovation to the entire organization.

The Skills of an Innovative Leader

Innovative leaders have powerful imaginations, they challenge everything and look where others have not looked. They constantly ask, ‘What if?’ And because they do, they find new opportunities and take reasonable and appropriate risks.

An XBInsight survey of over 5,000 CEOs worldwide found innovative leaders are more successful than non-innovative leaders as a result of five key competencies. The survey found innovative leaders are better able to manage risk and seize opportunities. They demonstrate curiosity, maximize a strategic business perspective, and lead courageously.

Because they have excellent communication skills, innovative leaders generate enthusiasm for opportunities, and effectively motivate and inspire others to collaborate with them and take the necessary risks.

They apply emotional intelligence to their everyday lives, continually building relationships with team members, colleagues, and bosses. They have confidence in their team, recognize and support creativity in the team, and their ability to work together effectively.

Finally, innovative leaders are tuned in to the details and its effect on the organization. They dig deep to seek out new patterns and consider new points of view. They are willing to change their perspective, challenging their own previously held convictions.

Strategies To Become an Innovative Leader

Innovation is about implementation. Without implementation, innovation is creativity – the generation of new ideas, something new without the application – non quantifiable, minimal risk, and no investment. Kouzes and Posner, in their book, The Leadership Challenge, encourage leaders to challenge the status quo by searching for opportunities, experimenting, and taking risks. They suggest leaders ask themselves the questions:

  • What can be challenged?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • What can I learn?

To drive innovation in your organization, consider applying the following five strategies.

1. Increase your knowledge from a variety of sources.

Innovation is based on knowledge. Therefore, you need to continually expand your knowledge base. Read books and other materials you don’t normally read. Think about your personal experiences. Is there knowledge or skills you can apply to be innovative at work?

What are your hobbies, interests, or volunteer activities? Do you play the piano, do you write short stories, are you a gourmet chef? Think about personal experiences to help you to tap into other knowledge and expertise and leverage them at work.

2. Treat patterns as part of the problem.

Sometimes we rely on previous experience to determine our next steps and we fall into a pattern of behaviour. Reach out to team members, colleagues, and bosses to test out your innovation plans. Are you relying on previous experience only to develop your solution? Are you spending time to reflect on the justification of your assumptions, beliefs, and values?

3. Turn off idea generation and work on implementation.

Creativity is the process for generating ideas, lots of ideas. But at some point, you need to stop, step back, and decide on which idea to implement. Innovation is about actually working the idea, implementing and executing in order to bring the idea to life.

4. Foster an innovative environment.

Involve your team in your innovative decisions. Communicate and collaborate with them. Part of your role as a leader is to encourage the creativity of your team members. Make sure they have the tools they need to create and adapt to change.

You do not need to, or should you, do this alone. That is why you have a team. Be a courageous change agent by trusting yourself to trust and lean on others. As you build your innovation skills and expertise, your team should be building theirs as well.

5. Evaluate, revise, repeat.

As with any change, it’s critical to evaluate the result. Ask yourself, and your team, what has been learned from the experience? Did anything occur that was not expected? What would we do differently? What could we have done better? Document your findings and apply them to the next situation that needs innovative thinking.

Innovation is not about the past but rather, visualizing a desired future state. The goal of innovation is to find a better way.

About the Author

Donna Stevenson is the owner of Boomer Match to Business (BM2B). She is an expert in leadership development and employee engagement, working effectively with all types of industries and businesses. She also designs and delivers leadership training courses. In her business, she specializes in matching business experts with business needs. Contact Donna at http://bm2b.ca/.