What is a leader’s real job?
A leadership model aimed at ‘directing’ innovation can stifle the competitive edge of an organization. To get future-ready, businesses need to give employees the freedom to own their innovative thinking. Effective leaders unlock creativity and foster a culture of involuntary innovation by empowering their teams.
An organisational culture that empowers and engages fuels innovation and a recent article got me thinking about the rather simple but powerful concept of innovation, and its nurturer, the leader.
During a conversation between Rajiv Bajaj, the dynamic Managing Director of Bajaj Auto, and an eminent consultant from Japan, the professor asked Rajiv what it was that he did. To which Rajiv promptly replied, "I am the Vice President of Products". Dismissing that as Bajaj’s designation, he once again asked Bajaj what he did. As the line of questioning continued, it became apparent that Rajiv’s answers, from “I make motorcycles”, to “I sell motorcycles”, all implied the same thing – “I don't do it myself. I have people who do it". This compelled Rajiv Bajaj to ask the professor for his view on what he thought was Rajiv’s role. The noted professor simply replied, "Well, you have only one job: helping people become better at their jobs."
For organisations to leapfrog from status quo to being ahead of competitive trends, an innovation-led plan is essential. However, businesses need to pivot from a rigid framework of forced innovation to a culture that empowers and encourages them to think outside the box. Leadership that is flexible, agile, supportive and willing to deviate from erstwhile strategies motivates individuals to continually embrace new ideas that could hold promise for the future.
Giving employees the freedom to own their innovation
Creating a culture that allows creativity to flourish requires that leadership create a shared sense of purpose while encouraging individual thought. Leaders often look to influence innovation at the macro (organisational) level. But effective leaders work at a micro level, creating an open platform that encourages and rewards ideas and lateral thinking, not success or failure.
Steve Jobs, the classic example of an unconventional nurturing leader, was infamous for not caring how polished someone's resume was, or where they had been before. His only criteria for selection was, "Is this person a Problem Solver?" Instead of directing their employees on how to do their job, Steve believed leadership should be focused on articulating a shared vision thereby encouraging everyone to work, and innovate, towards the same goal.
Innovation, for time immemorial, has been the classic path to doing things differently. However, an innovation culture is assuming gargantuan proportions as traditional paths to success change, and industries and organizations get created, and wiped-out, in the blink of an eye.
As innovation becomes the critical competitive advantage and differentiator between businesses that are, and businesses that have-been, it is essential that organizational leadership becomes an enabler of creativity rather than a director of innovation.
The writer is the Technology Editor and ROI Strategist at Dubai-based CXO Strategies. She can be contacted via twitter @CXOConnectME