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C-Suite Advisory

What Makes an Innovative Leader?

For most managers and executives in today’s business world, the day-to-day emphasis is on motivating their team, hitting targets and ensuring profitability. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this approach – running a business in the modern economic climate is not easy, and if you oversee a motivated and profitable workforce then there’s no doubt you’re doing your job.

However, for some leaders this simply isn’t enough. For these men and women, leadership isn’t about the status quo, but rather about innovation, and how new approaches can lead to profitable change and growth. They are not satisfied relying on tried and tested formulas, instead preferring to take risks to innovate and disrupt their markets. When you think of these great innovators, you will almost certainly think of today’s great entrepreneurs – leaders like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.

So, what can we learn from the approach of these leaders, and the characteristics that set them apart from others? Innovation is certainly a common trait among some of the world’s most successful managers, CEOs and entrepreneurs. It’s no surprising then that many of the world’s biggest businesses place a heavy focus on this rather elusive competency. According to a study by Conference Board, ‘innovation’ and ‘human capital’ were cited as the top challenges to CEOs in driving business growth.

Yet, innovation is a difficult quality to cultivate in employees and managers, and not an easy skill to look for in potential leaders. So, what makes an innovative leader? XBInsight, in a unique piece of research published on Harvard Business Review, suggest that the most innovative leaders score far higher than non-innovative ones in four key competencies:

Manage Risk

In their study of nearly 5,000 leaders in a variety of industries, innovative leaders scored 25% higher than their non-innovative counterparts when it came to effectively managing risk. They are willing to tackle risk in a forthright and bold way, experimenting with new approaches and developing plans to identify and minimise risk.

Be Curious

According to their research, innovative leaders consistently demonstrate curiosity – they always want to know more and will actively seek out new information. This not only affords access to wider knowledge base but stimulates new thinking in their colleagues and gives them an edge over the competition.

Lead with Courage

Innovative leaders tend to be proactive, leading with authority, confidence and courage. They do not shrink in the face of tough circumstances or difficult decisions, but instead turn them into opportunities to take responsibility and demonstrate their leadership.

Seize Opportunities

Innovative leaders take the responsibility for their own success and demonstrate a consistent ability to take opportunities when they arise. They anticipate problems and, as a result, are able to change direction at short notice to seize new opportunities.

On top of these key skills, innovative leaders are also able to consistently maintain a strategic perspective, thoroughly understanding their business and the market in which they operate. Of course, this is a competency you might expect of any strong leader, but in combination with the other skills it makes for a manager who is likely to take bold, innovative approaches.

It is these skills that breed the confidence, experience and industry knowledge necessary to demonstrate innovation in business – something you see in the world’s most recognisable CEOs and entrepreneurs. Take Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for example. His ‘empty chair’ approach has become the stuff of legend among management consultants and is perhaps the driving principle behind the success of Amazon’s business model and customer service aplomb.

Whenever Bezos holds a meeting with his staff at Amazon, he leaves a single empty chair – explaining to those present that this seat is reserved for the most important person at the meeting; the customer. Not only is this memorable and engaging, but it ensures all meetings consistently take the customer into account, leading to culture that is focused on customer services at all levels of the business.

So, how do you score on the key competencies of innovative leaders? How about your team? Perhaps there is something all of us can learn by looking at these skills, and the approaches of leaders like Bezos to improve our own leadership and foster a culture of innovation within our own businesses.


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Himanshu Agarwal

Himanshu AgarwalVerified account

Himanshu Agarwal is the Founder & CEO of a Digital Marketing firm SmartWeb. He is an online market analyst, startup strategist and a writer.
Himanshu Agarwal

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