“There are no rules, we are trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison

Innovative leaders are creative thinkers or leaders who dare to challenge the norm and status quo with an uncontainable excitement of what could be… rather than what is today. The list of modern-day innovative leaders includes names such as Kevin Systrom, Arianna Huffington, and Jeff Weiner. These leaders have created innovative ideas and visions bridled with the uncanny ability to motivate people around them to turn those ideas into reality. An innovative leader may not create the idea, but recognizes the idea, envisions the path and resources required.

These are key attributes of innovative leaders:

  1. Welcome Challenges– Innovative leaders do not simply delegate, they lead and embrace challenges. They cultivate a culture of critical thinking that takes on these challenges. They have a passion for innovation, change, and challenges.
  2. The Invisible Box– An innovative leader drives change by seeking knowledge and knowledgeable people. They inspire and challenge their team to embrace and move beyond “in the box” thinking to embrace the ‘invisible box’ ideas. Change is a constant and identifying that change is a challenge. The ‘invisible box’ concept allows these leaders to develop strategies in advance to manage the changes which simultaneously creates value for their team.
  3. Gurus of Risks– Being an innovative leader means you create a culture of smart risk-taking, critical AND creative thinking. Innovative leaders do not follow the rules without questioning why, when and the positive effects. Innovative leaders ask the hard questions and expect the team to question alongside them. They listen to their team and take all ideas into consideration with the ultimate goal of discovering what could be, rather than what is today.
  4. Systemic Learning– To be an innovative leader means you establish a systemic learning environment. Ensuring learning is part of your culture, relevant, and sustained over time. A systemic learning culture requires consideration of your clients’ needs presently and in the future. The most innovative leaders engage their clients in dialogue to understand their needs and deliver solutions to exceed their clients’ expectations.
  5. 20/2 Vision– A hawk possess ‘20/2’ vision, which provides a tremendous advantage over its prey and competitors. A leader who is innovative must be able to not only create a vision or blueprint but also clearly articulate the benefits. Developing this ‘20/2’ vision is not exclusive to sight rather it’s about insight or the ability to allow their team to figure out the details as they guide from “a perch above.” Coaching and challenging the strategic process when necessary without providing the answers. Today’s innovative leader realizes that complexity often creates value and figuring out that complexity takes vision, communication, and determination. An innovative leader looks beyond the data; they think possibilities, not limits.
  6. Elevated Perspective– An innovative leader builds a capacity for learning and asking questions. They cultivate thought-provoking interactions with other innovators. It’s their willingness to lead courageously in the face of challenge that distinguishes them from others. They anticipate potential roadblocks and challenges, which allow them to prepare in advance to ensure projects keep moving forward.
  7. Dare to Defend– Innovative leaders value those who are also risk-takers and understand they do not fit the corporate mold. They are willing to protect the “mavericks” on their team. These players’ talents drive results and productivity, therefore innovative leaders don’t force them to work in a traditional culture. Innovative leaders challenge, support and create opportunities for these “mavericks” to demonstrate their leadership skills, knowledge and talent.
  8. Respect Failure– Lastly innovative leaders drive and demand accountability for success and failure. This isn’t about ‘hand-holding”, rather they teach people to become comfortable with failure. Let them know that failure is learning by experience. An innovative leader realizes that it takes courage to fail and learn from that failure. They often view failure as a tool for learning, which leads to enhancements or efficiencies to the vision. This inspires others to seek multiple routes and taps into the determination and drive of those around them to achieve the desired outcome.

I have had the distinct pleasure of interacting and partnering with several innovator leaders throughout my career. These leaders have influenced millions of talented employees to deliver world-class solutions that have forever changed their respective industries. Your impact as an innovative leader extends beyond the walls of your organization, rather it permeates the lives of those who choose to follow you.

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