“You have no choice about being a role model. You are one…it comes with the job. The only choice you have is which role you’ll model.” — Anonymous
There are core values that are shared by high performing Innovation Leaders (ILs) that are reflected in their behaviors, and thereby permeate the culture of their organizations. With 25 years of helping leaders all over the world improve their ability to grow innovative organizations, here are some practical lessons I’ve learned. The purpose of this article is to help you find ways to move yourself even more in alignment with them. The challenge is to read this blog not with the intention of looking for validation of where you are doing well, but look at where you might improve. And, of course, you will easily find peers or bosses who are much more in “need of improvement” than you are, but this article is not about them. It’s about you. There is no valid reason for you to avoid immediately putting a focus on your own improvement. As graduates of our Innovation Leadership Mastery programs will remind us: the leader goes first. That would be you.
When you look at people who are already great leaders of innovation, inspiring great thinking and execution in the people around them over the long haul—both anecdotally and in the research—you’ll see admirable maturity in six dimensions. In today’s blog we’ll be discussing the first three: Humility, Curiosity and Courage.
- Humility: This is the most important of the values. Without it as a base, none of the other values can be adequately energized. Innovation Leaders have great self-confidence, yet they are very humble. They are willing to admit that they don’t know, and can’t possibly be the best at, everything. That’s why they persistently seek to courageously learn as much as they can, because they know that they’re not finished growing yet. Nor will they ever be. These individuals are very clear that they get stuck from time to time — as does everybody. And as a hedge against that, they have people around them who remind them and challenge them, when “stuckness” shows up. Not “yes-men” and “yes-women,” but people who know that the leader won’t shut them down for challenging them. They surround themselves with "integrinators" (people who will call you on behaviors and verbalizations inconsistent with your stated beliefs).
For more on Humility see Humility: The Foundation Value of Innovation Leadership
- Curiosity: Like most of us, great Innovation Leaders have fun learning new things. The difference between Innovation Leaders and average managers is that ILs structure their lives in such a way that learning is never relegated to the “if I can get to it pile.” It is a core part of their day-to-day living pattern. Whether it’s taking classes, reading books, attending presentations, engaging in dialogues or looking for new information on the web - they do it because they want to learn more. An interesting note is that their learning is often outside of their own field. Because they’ve worked for so long in their business, they know a large percentage of what there is to know. So they tend to learn on the fringe of their base competency, and because they explore “outside” interests they are often making novel connections from these outside areas to the work they do.
For more on Curiosity see Energizing Curiosity in Your Innovative Brain
- Courage: Driving innovation requires that action be taken even in the face of fear. Courage is not fearlessness, but a willingness to act even when fear is present. Many managers are afraid to ask a question that exposes lack of knowledge, but Innovation Leaders do it all the time. While their people may at first laugh at their ignorance, more times than not, ideas are borne from the resulting answers. Imagining ourselves seeking and getting honest feedback from others can be fear-inducing, yet how else do we find out how we’re doing or how we can improve? Imagining ourselves admitting a mistake can be fear-inducing, but if we don’t, then the mistake doesn’t get corrected and we don’t learn from it. Innovation Leaders find the courage to overcome the fear in the moment for the greater good.
For more on Courage see Courage in the face of the status quo
How Can You Take Action?
I encourage you to keep these first three core values of Innovation Leaders top of mind over the next few weeks.
- Invest a little time in reviewing your own behavior and your gut reactions to innovative ideas.
- Be Humble and admit you don’t know all the answers and surround yourself with those that respectfully challenge your ideas.
- Be as Curious as possible and push yourself out of your typical learning sources—going outside your industry for new ideas.
- Be Courageous and ask a question that shows you don’t have all the answers, yet helps your company get the best ideas on the table.
Your commitment to honing your Innovation Leader traits will be the difference between successfully implementing innovation into your organization and remaining status quo.
Check back on our blog in March for Part II of “Traits of an Innovation Leader.”
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