Innovative Leadership in the Workplace- New Trends

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We all know that “Change is the only constant”. It’s no different for each and every one of us, especially those of us who are donning the role of a leader. Every passing day we are entrusted to make the right decisions, hire the right people, do the right communication, make the right change happen, talk to the right people, at the right time, in the right place. Any error in our judgment is measured in a yardstick.

We are constantly monitored and judged as we enter the new paradigm of Leadership. The question is, in the VUCA world that we live in, can we produce creative ideas, products and services that influences everyone we interact with? Lets call it the need for Innovative leadership.

We have been bombarded with jargons for different leadership styles, such as adaptive leadership, authentic leadership, situational leadership, agile leadership, laissez-faire leadership, democratic leadership, etc..

Making our lives complicated. It does not matter what leadership style we exhibit in a given situation. All that matters is are we doing the right thing at a given moment. It all starts with us, the leader as a person.

Being a Innovative person

The first question to ask is, am I an innovative person? In the past have my ideas been made into reality, instead of just remaining as ideas. Have I been the person who constantly experiments, or finding new ways to doing things, or newer ways to getting things done. If so, then you can consider yourself to be an innovative person. There is also a flip side to this. In many situations, we are sometimes constrained not to reveal our innovative because as we cannot risk doing something different. So, often it’s a question of balance between risk versus innovation and experimentation. It’s a trade-off we are held responsible for.

To a very large extent, to being an innovative person we need to think innovatively. So, it starts with the mind. We can also train our mind to think innovatively and to find creative inspiration. We can do this by changing  or modifying our daily rituals/routines and build innovation in them. For example, if we have planned to jog six days a week, but we only do 3 a week, we can modify our routine by maybe keeping your jogging shoes just underneath your bed, so that as you wake up the first thing you do is put your shoes on. What your mind says to you is, “you are ready to jog today”, and the chances of you jogging that day is very high. This is just a slight modification to the routine, but will have a great impact. Other ways could be to try a different route to your workplace, or try a different cuisine for dinner or hanging out with different people will help re-program your mind. Having fun, laughing a lot and generally being happy also trigger your mind to innovative thinking. In short, try something that you have been afraid to try, because it makes a huge difference.

Therefore, being intuitive and open to possibilities, the goal of innovative thinking is to find a better wayand to explore multiple possibilities. Ambiguity is anadvantage, not a problem. It allows you to ask “what if?”. Ask “what if”, often.

Being a Innovative Leader

Whatever role we play in our organization, if we have to be differentiated with others, within our peer group or with our superiors, usually the most important yardstick we are measured on is in the skill of innovation. Ofcourse in certain roles we cannot be innovative. That apart, if we need to influence an outcome, or a situation, or a person, we need to think creatively and execute the tasks innovatively. For doing so we need to be very insightful, mindful of what we are doing, emotionally stable, extremely focused, using our time wisely, and making the right judgment. These are not easy things to do for a leader. Often it is exercising our leadership through motivation and inspiration and to communicate our vision effectively through personal inspirational stories. Often, if you can use pictures, stories, impressions, and metaphors which are powerful tools for describing situations, constructing ideas, and communicating effectively, you are being innovative as a leader.

Innovation management is all about imagining, organizing, mobilizing and competing in entirely new ways. As someone said, “When patterns are broken, a new world emerges”. It’s about creating significant economic value and meaningful differentiation. This kind of thinking will make us one-apart.

Building Innovative Leadership in an organization

Traditional management design and management processes are the barriers to innovation. The most significant barrier is the organization’s culture. As it is said,

Culture is the sum of everyone’s attitudes and actions.” If we cannot change an existing culture that hinders innovation, we cannot expect people to be creative and innovative. Assess your current culture, define the attributes to an innovative culture, close the cultural gaps, and monitor progress closely. We are well aware the innovation cannot happen is a command and control culture, or for that matter in a dictatorial culture. We need to build a culture of learning. Being an Agility, the first cultural model I studied was the Schneider Cultural model.  Peter Schneider invented this model, which is a 4-quadrant model, depicting four different cultures.

The four cultures are:

  • Collaboration
  • Control
  • Competence
  • Cultivation

There is a horizontal and vertical axis that indicate people oriented(personal) versus company oriented (impersonal), and the vertical axis that indicate reality (actuality) oriented versus possibility oriented. This provides a way to see relationships between the cultures. For example, Control culture is more compatible with Collaboration or Competence cultures than with Cultivation culture. To be agile, adaptive and innovative you need a combination of cultivation and collaborative culture, which is more of building a people oriented culture.

Summing Up

Breaking rigid processes, imaging, bringing information to life through metaphors, generating insights through improvisation, experimentation, rapid prototyping and exploration are the key to building an innovative workplace. Another practice is one where there is non-judgmental sharing of ideas, called as collaborative inquiry from a variety of stakeholders that allows everyone to have effective dialogs without retribution or fear. Also, if one can exercise their critical thinking skills  which generates an environment for innovation to thrive makes the workplace a fun place to be.

Reference: Schneider Cultural model: http://www.methodsandtools.com/archive/agileculture.php

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Vasanthan Philip is a Strategic Agilist and a Leadership Coach. He is a Marshall Goldsmith certified MGSCC Executive coach. He is also certified by John Mattone as “Inteligent Leadership-Executive Coach. He is an advisor, consultant, trainer and coach with over 30 years of industry experience. He is a avid blogger, publishes regularly in LinkedIn and is soon to be author of a leadership book. He participates and speaks in conferences on Agile and Business Agility. He has worked in leadership positions with IBM-Singapore, HCL, Wipro and FIS globally. He regularly facilitates workshop on Leadership Development, Change Management and Business Agility.

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