Leaders are accountable to assemble teams and lead them to optimal performance outcomes. An effective leader recognizes the importance of embracing differences in people and knows how to connect the dots amongst those differences to get the best outcomes from the team. This is what cultivates a workplace environment of continuous improvements, innovation and initiative. Leaders must foster a commitment from the team to embrace an innovation mindset where each employee learns to apply the differences that exist in one another for their own success and that of the organization.
A recent Wall Street Journal article titled, Together We Innovate, addressed the importance of employees working together in an effort to pull new ideas from multiple sources regardless of hierarchy or rank. It states that, “most companies continue to assume that innovation comes from that individual genius, or, at best, small, sequestered teams that vanish from sight and then return with big ideas.” The article argues that “most innovations are created through networks -- groups of people working in concert.”
Innovation begins with those people who touch the business across all functional and departmental areas. Innovation is not dependent on the participation of high-ranking executives -- but on any employee that is a student of the business, knows their customers and their specific needs. They take the time to analyze their competitors and the evolution of industries, brands and the emerging role of technology. Innovators are those who can see, sow, grow and share opportunities.
If you can score above a 36 in the workplace serendipity quiz, you are proficient at leading innovative teams.
Innovation is something that happens when you have a team who has a pulse on the marketplace and what it is telling them they must do. Many companies and people will lay claim to knowing about the innovations that are taking place in markets throughout the world – but few will take the required actions, make the right investments in people and resources to bring innovative ideas to full bloom.
Innovation requires a certain type of person: they are passionate explorers in pursuit of endless possibilities. These explorers are courageous enough to take that leap of faith and follow it through all the way to the end. Just ask Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors who was recently featured on 60 Minutes, where he discussed his journey to reinvent the aerospace and automotive industries. Musk’s ventures nearly ran out of cash, but he saved them both by investing more of his own money while selling his vision to new investors and clients that committed to multi-year contracts; this allowed Musk to prolong his passionate pursuits. For Musk, it is the talent of his people, the trust he has in his team, and a combination of collaboration, grit and resiliency that keeps his vision and innovations alive. In the end, isn’t that the ultimate role of leaders – to keep companies, industries and economies alive and thriving through innovation?
The best leaders know that innovation must come from multiple sources, both internally and externally. When people and their different points of view and experiences converge, they create the types of innovations that individuals could not have done or found alone.
We all need to be revitalized in a manner that inspires hope and evolution in order to propel innovative opportunities for growth, prosperity and sustainability. Opening our minds to innovation is critical to creating a workplace environment that allows people to thrive. The innovation process begins by identifying:
• how people want to lead and be led;
• the function they can best serve to add value; and
• the required tools to adapt to change in positive and meaningful ways.
Innovation and workplace transformation represent two-sides of the same coin. Enable employees to adopt an "entrepreneurial mindset" to showcase their ideas and ideals and they become the foundation for organizational growth and sustainability. Allowing them to propel innovation and show initiative is the key to successful workplace revival and an opportunity to reenergize individual and organic organizational growth.
Here are 5 immediate things leaders can do with their teams to foster an environment of innovation and initiative. They apply whether you are forming a new team or revamping an existing one.
1. Trust Yourself Enough to Trust Others
Innovation requires breaking down the old rules of thought and creating new ones. This means each member of the team must become more transparent than ever before. As such, each member of the team must trust themselves enough to trust each other. When you can accomplish this trust, you become more patient, a better listener and over time more grateful for the new experiences and relationships that are being formed.
Then, step back and recognize that – with your ability to co-exist with people in ways that form a family bond – the promise of a new workplace culture can be realized.
2. Collaborate and Discover
It’s not until you begin to trust yourself and others that real collaboration takes root. Collaboration is not just about working closely together, but also about taking leaps of faith together to discover new ways of thinking and create greater outcomes.
You never know which idea will take shape into the new innovation that creates impact and influence in the marketplace – whether a new process, product, packaging, piece of knowledge, etc.
3. Communicate to Learn
Without strong communication, teams can’t find their rhythm and they certainly won’t find the things they are looking for to build trust and collaborate. The manner in which you communicate sets the tone and propels thinking in a variety of directions that leads to new innovations.
A team should view themselves as an innovation lab – constantly challenging each other to learn from each other’s ideas and ideals and to plant the seeds for future innovations.
4. Be a Courageous Change Agent
For teams to innovate, leaders must challenge each team member to think more critically and see through a lens of continuous improvement. Looking through this lens requires the mindset of a “courageous enabler” – one who takes charge and embraces the role of a change agent in support of constructive disruption that ultimately makes things operate better and improves performance.
Every leader must become a change agent or face extinction. As such, their teams must equally be charged to do the same. Accepting the role of a change agent means taking on an entrepreneurial attitude, embracing risk as the new normal, and beginning to see opportunity in everything. As you do, innovation becomes second nature.
5. Course Correct to Perfect
To find the perfect combination of people on a team, leaders must often course correct along the way. Yes, perfection is utopia but course correction steers you closer to the promise of the culture you are attempting to create. Course correction also keeps people on their toes and teaches them to adapt to new environments, where they can showcase their abilities and skill-sets to new people and personalities in different situations and circumstances.
To effectively course correct – and create and sustain momentum for growth, innovation and opportunity – I’ve always believed that every leader must ask themselves the following three questions: 1) What must I keep doing?, 2) What must I stop doing?, and 3) What must I start doing? Simple questions that we don’t ask ourselves often enough and must hold ourselves accountable to answer.
While the business world is in constant search of the next big thing, leaders must remember that you don’t so much need to be inventive as you do innovative. Being inventive is creating something new that has never existed. Innovation is the creation of something new that represents a communal adaptation or application used and embraced by the masses. Steve Jobs famously noted that, “Innovation is the difference between a leader and a follower.” As we have all learned from Jobs, innovation done rightly has the power to change a workplace, an industry, a country, the world.