In McKinsey Quarterly’s classic post, Leadership and Innovation, the authors tell us that research shows a gap between how much executives want to innovate and how well they can execute that innovation.
Innovation has become imperative for companies of all sizes – whether Fortune 500 or “mom and pop” businesses. Skilled leaders ask, “How can we provide something for our customers no one else can? How can our be processes more efficient than anyone else’s? How can we increase employee engagement so they think outside the box?”
Innovation has become imperative for companies of all sizes – whether Fortune 500 or “mom and pop” businesses.
You may be a proactive leader who strives to be innovative. You read, attend conferences and workshops, and listen to podcasts, to stay on top of the latest management thinking. So why do you feel stuck?
The answer may surprise you.
Overusing You Stengths
You may be overusing your strengths. After twenty-five years of working with leaders in all sectors, I found overusing strengths is one of the most common blocks to becoming an innovative leader. And this may limit your ability to create innovation within your leadership team, your employees and your customer base.
How is it even possible that your strengths could be impeding your impact as a leader?
When I work with industry leaders, I begin by asking them to list the characteristics that are most responsible for their success. They might tell me they are community-builders, detail oriented, and innovators. These strengths have served them well. What they don’t know is they may have, unknowingly, turned their best characteristics into liabilities. They became “stuck” in their strengths. And being stuck is counter-intuitive to innovation.
Personal Leadership Style
Perhaps Deborah Rowland said it best in the Harvard Business Review post, Leadership 2.0 And How Not to Achieve It: “When you’re stuck in yesterday’s core, you can’t explore new possibilities. New possibilities demand edges.” And while she was talking about organizational leadership in the music industry, nowhere is this more important than in your personal leadership style.
Take Jerry, an upwardly-mobile guy who had just become part of a leadership team at a very successful manufacturing plant. Jerry could solve any problem. He never had to ask others for help. But now he was starting to rub people the wrong way. And, frankly, it threatened his career path.
In working with Jerry, I found he’d grown up in a rural county in Tennessee. His father had abandoned the family when Jerry was ten. Jerry persevered, graduating from high school with high honors and attending a very prestigious college to earn a degree in engineering. Jerry considered independence and self-reliance his greatest strengths. And they were.
Here was the problem: Jerry always had to be independent and self-reliant. He could never ask for help. And because of that, he failed miserably at being a team player and a skilled leader.
To ensure his success and the plant’s continued innovation, Jerry had to move beyond always and never. He needed to see that asking for help was a strength, too, and to allow the team to contribute to his solutions. Of course, he could still use that fantastic skill of being independent.
There is No Right Way
The big shift? Recognizing that one way is not always the right way.
Marshall Goldsmith, the world renowned leadership coach, wrote a book with a title that captures the essence of this truth: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
Innovative leaders learn to see beyond their status quo, which includes how we use our strengths. Often this means using the opposite of those strengths to effect change. Big thinker? It may be time to focus on the details. Great listener? It may be time to speak your mind. Great at taking charge? It may be time to take a backseat and learn something from a new innovator in your company.
Conventional wisdom says, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. But as readers of WorqIQ, we know innovation is about challenging conventional wisdom. To be a really innovative leader, expand the way you act and interact. Be heretical. Try something new (for you).
In doing so, you will inspire others. And that’s what innovation is really about.