Embracing creativity and innovation in leadership

Companies don’t want to get become complacent in their work practices. They need leaders who are well-equipped to take creative risks and leave them in innovative new directions.

A business employee draws a diagram.

Today’s corporate leaders can foreground innovation and creativity.

In fast-moving industries and unpredictable conditions, well-worn tactics and orthodox approaches to business problems can only get companies so far. Organizations therefore need leaders who can instill creativity and successfully put the business on new paths. While it’s great to find candidates for executive roles who already possess these abilities, they can also be learned. Training that imparts the critical abilities of modern leadership is therefore a valuable investment.

Today’s organizations want to become trend-setters in their fields, determining the rules by which their industries will work in the years ahead. A surplus of creative and innovative thinking in the leadership ranks could be the factor that allows these organizations to sprint ahead of the pack. Teaching individuals to be innovative decision-makers can help firms change their strategies while simultaneously giving those employees a leg up in their own advancement.

Getting buy-in to innovate

Great leadership isn’t about unilaterally moving a company in a new direction. Instead, leaders support, enable and inspire whole teams of individuals. According to McKinsey & Company research from 2017 focusing on the manufacturing sector, there is a direct correlation between innovative corporate operations and leadership practices. When managers are clear-eyed about the future direction of the company and adept at dealing with their team members’ day-to-day concerns, they’ll create ideal conditions for growth and success.

The researchers pointed out great leaders tend to be people with the insight to understand necessary next steps, courage to move in those directions and agility not to get stuck in one place. These individual traits should be accompanied by integrity and a sense of connection with the employees tasked with following them.

Encouraging organizations to follow innovative new courses requires managers to have buy-in from their teams. This means that an innovative leader’s skill set is incomplete without the ability to acknowledge and inspire others. Simply telling coworkers about a new direction for the business is different from doing so in a manner that makes individuals embrace and believe in the latest approach. The latter action is the path to real innovation, while the former is unlikely to succeed.

Finding creativity and inspiration

The other critical element for leadership, alongside the faith and investment of employees, is creative insight into where the industry is going – and potential future paths to pursue. Following established guidelines and long-held truisms isn’t likely to get businesses the results they seek. Leaders may become more creative and inspired by taking new approaches to their own thinking and development.

The Engaging Educator’s Jen Brown told the Forbes Young Entrepreneur Council there is value in leaders not treating themselves as an “idea machine” and turning out one new concept after another. Learning to develop a satisfying work-life balance is therefore a helpful skill. On a similar note, Kuli Kuli Inc.’s Lisa Crutis told the YEC leaders should stay connected to their suppliers and customers. Dealing with these individuals leads to insights and views that can inform decisions.

Some of the abilities associated with innovative leadership may appear counterintuitive at first glance. Rather than spending all day and night trying to grind out new business ideas, the best managers could be those who take a balanced approach to their decision-making and engage fully with multiple elements of the company. Thinking creatively tends to work better when input comes from multiple sources.

A business leader speaks to his team.What kind of leader can inspire teams to innovate?

Leadership as an art form

Treating leadership as less of a brute-force process and more of an improvisational art is one way to help a manager guide a team toward innovation and way from convention. While this may sound abstract or hard to implement, Inc. contributor Linda Naiman explained that the connection between artful thinking and effective leadership has become a common refrain among industry thinkers, one with direct and immediate implications.

For instance, as consultant Tom Peters put it, business leadership can be about heart rather than raw profit motive. Managers who direct their companies in a thoughtful manner, becoming passionate about the choices they make, can impart more effective and innovative practices than those who take everything by the book. The idea of heart also implies leaders who take a personal stake in the success and failure of their companies, getting deeply invested in the outcomes their decisions lead to.

Training to become an innovator

While there’s no one-stop solution to make an individual into an innovative leader, training can be an essential building block in improved manager performance and corporate success. Rather than assuming people in leadership positions know all they need, organizations can invest in constant improvement, using contemporary and well-designed courses to shore up skills.

Some of the abilities associated with innovation aren’t truly unique or strange. Interpersonal skills and the ability to inspire trust, for example, have been parts of the leadership portfolio since the dawn of modern business. In an era defined by fast-moving organizations committed to change, however, these age-old practices are part of a distinctly modern leadership profile.

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