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Why leadership and innovation cannot exist without each other

March 26, 2019
Borderless Leadership

“Leadership” and “innovation” are two key concepts that are widely discussed within the business community. These discussions often include a definition of both and examples of those who actively demonstrate these concepts, but they do not usually offer specific actions that can be implemented practically to achieve them.

First and foremost, leadership starts at the top with the chief executive officer (CEO). He or she can create an innovation-driven environment that permeates all operational aspects of the organization. The CEO is instrumental in creating an organizational ecosystem in which new ideas and changes are encouraged, discussed freely and accepted. The behaviors adopted by the CEO can then be reflected in his or her direct reports, including those in business development. A business development executive should subscribe to the innovation-driven culture and lead his or her team in the same manner. This can help differentiate the company’s solutions while also creating new ways of selling to clients and increasing the probability of win (Pwin).

There are a few key actions that I’ve found the CEO and his or her executive leadership team needs to follow to enable innovation within their organization.

  • Ask questions and listen. Strong leaders ask insightful questions and actively listen to responses to truly comprehend the issue the team is discussing. This is especially true if the opinions they’re expressing are different from those of the leader. Each question can build upon the previous response so that innovative ideas and solutions are iteratively drawn out.
  • Really understand the root of a client’s problem. In order to “sell” a solution to a client, leaders (especially business development leaders) should fundamentally understand what is causing the client’s business problem (not just the business problem itself). Ask “why” and “how.” If you don’t have answers to these questions, the business problem could occur again, regardless of the solution you implement.
  • Use trial and error. Developing an innovative solution is not typically a one-time effort. Teams need the opportunity to cultivate ideas, prototype, fail, learn from their failures, and try again. However, the term “fail” is a misnomer in this case. Failing can be essential to learning about potential risks, bugs and defects, how to resolve them and how to refine the solution so that it functions optimally in your client’s environment.
  • Cultivate your organization’s passion. In my experience, a great leader is able to understand what drives his or her team members to succeed and coalesce his or her team around a mission and specific set of values that truly define the organization. These two items can be fully integrated into the culture of the organization, including its daily operations and decision making, to foster a sense of enthusiasm or passion among employees. This can, in turn, increase productivity, employee retention and the desire to “do more.”
  • Network. Networking with your peers, competitors, clients, partners and thought leaders can be essential to the formation of new ideas. Learning about evolution in the marketplace, hearing divergent opinions and discovering how others solved complex challenges can lead you to form innovative ideas of your own.

Finally, I believe that value is created through experience. Leaders, including those in business development, can enable their teams to gain hands-on experience in applying innovative techniques and developing innovative solutions. Thought leaders and solutions architects generally cannot simply research and write about solutions — they should also be allowed to experiment if their ideas are to bear fruit. Business development leaders can work with executives to empower their teams to “think outside of the box” and experiment by incentivizing the development of innovative ideas. This helps create an environment where new tools and ideas can be prototyped and tested and provides thought leaders time to develop and publish new ideas. If you take steps like these, you could see significant dividends while retaining star employees.

I believe leadership and innovation go hand in hand and depend on one another for success. By applying the principles mentioned above and allowing employees to really explore and experiment with new ideas, leaders can cultivate an organizational culture that can truly change the face of their business.

By Branko Primetica

Source: Forbes

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