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The top two characteristics of innovation leaders

July 27, 2017

Having the privilege of working with many great companies, I have found that there are two key characteristics that their leaders display that help drive innovation in the culture of those organizations, regardless of the industry they are in. At the end of the day, a leader sets the tone for their organization (both for the good and not so good). The two key leadership characteristics that drive a culture of innovation are:

  1. Willingness to challenge the status quo
  2. The ability to take action.

Willingness to challenge the status quo

From my experience, the most successful leaders are not satisfied with the organization’s current performance; they either want to do better, or are concerned with the speed of change in their industry and worry about the ability to keep up and lead.

Shockingly, there are still a decent number “rose-coloured glasses leaders” who are satisfied with the status quo. There are also some who believe that they can make small incremental changes as “process improvements” and that is sufficient. I would (and do) say to them that small changes are necessary, but they are not nearly sufficient: you can process improve yourself out of business.

There are also organizations who reward and are very comfortable in their “safe” world of the status quo. I present this org chart often and without fail get an immediate gut response from those around me about how real this is, sadly: 

So how do things change? It starts with a leader really leading and challenging the status quo boldly. Those who are ready to challenge the status quo win today.

Three tips to challenge the status quo:

  1. Inspire a big vision, visualize and communicate to your organization the “Why”, purpose, and reason to believe;
  2. Get the right people on the bus – and with all others, free them up to work in the other organizations highlighted above;
  3. When your industry is turning right, work on opportunities that turn left.

  The ability to take action

 Here’s the thing: wanting to challenge the status quo without taking action to do something different is a problem. Leaders who execute and take action are the ones who get the most important things done. From my experience, fear of failure is usually the root of inaction. We all know intuitively that to make change, we need to do something differently. But often our fear of failure holds us back. We also know that the most successful leaders and innovators have many stories of things they have tried that did not go so well – but the key point is that they tried.

             “Courage is resistance of fear, resistance to fear – not absence of fear”

                                                                                                                                   Mark Twain

Action breeds action. It takes courage to act. The more you do, the more the engine of action is built within yourself and within your organization.

Three tips to take action:

  1. Try “fail fast, fail cheap” experiments and learn from them;
  2. Start with smaller changes, then go big;
  3. Get over yourself – and get started

I have personally found that my most meaningful and impactful leadership moments have come when I have pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone and tried something different, pushing myself to take the leap to try. While not all of the actions have hit it out of the ball park, the satisfaction comes from taking action for something you believe in and doing something few others have done.

Here’s to challenging the status quo and taking action. This is how a movement starts, innovation thrives, big differences are made, teams are inspired, and you display the greatness of your leadership.

Together we make innovation happen,


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