What do innovative leaders do?

What do innovative leaders do? What leadership behaviors drive innovation?

In 1989 Steven R. Covey published “the Seven Habits of Highly Efective People”, a book that went on to sell 15 million copies. It was followed up in 2004, with “the Eight Habit“. Combined, Covey’s books have sold some 15 million copies in 38 languages.

Today, Covey runs a worldwide consulting business and his ideas have affected millions of people across the world. These eight habits, according to Covey, form the basis for effective lives, good management and, in turn, drive better results across the workplace.

But what about innovation?
What habits, traits or behaviour help drive effective innovation, strategic innovation and, in turn, create better innovation results?

Across the innovation literature, we find surprisingly little material as clear and succient as covey’s habits to help answer the questions “what habits help drive innovation?” and “what leadership traits and skills foster innovation?”

The 2009 Harvard Business Review article, “The Innovator’s DNA” suggests five traits:
1. Associating
2. Questioning
3. Observing
4. Networking
5. Experimenting

Also, the authors add – and we like this added point – “innovators rely on their courage to innovate, an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take risks, to transform ideas into powerful impact” (Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen, 2009).

But, this article stand almost alone in the field.
As leadership trainers and executive coaches we have extensive material on good leadership behaviors, on leadership EQ, on traits for Superleadership, for Transformational leadership and, more recently, extensive material on leading with your strenghts.

But helping an executive team develop innovation skills (not just creativity skills); helping them indivdually develop the behaviors that enable collective innovation; this field is just starting to develop.

Today, we are hard at work to identify such traits and behaviors. Our reserach journey takes us across innovation research, creativity and leadership research. Our goal is to help our students, our clients and organizations everywhere develop the tools, mental capacity, traits and – finally – the behaviour to become more innovate.

That was the blogpost draft we wrote in the middle of 2011. Then we left it there. To develop. While working. And we found what we were looking for.

Think like an innovator (The Innovator’s DNA)

The missing piece that perfectly fit our puzzle was the book “The Innovator’s DNA”. Building on the trio’s December 2009 article, the July 2011 book was a perfect match. Greatly expanding on the first piece, the book also adds another crucial section; The DNA-People, Processes, And Philosophies–Of Innovative Companies.

During the fall of 2011, “The Innovator’s DNA” started sailing up as a book-of-choice across several of our courses and programs for 2012. Students, curious souls and innovators can catch the essence in the 7 minute HBR video. For further reading, we recommned the HBR Blog og All Things D’s Seven Questions for Jeff Dyer.

As far as the book goes, Covey’s even got a review on the book jacket. Fittingly, indeed.

The Innovators DNA sheds new light on the once mysterious art of innovation by showing that successful innovators exhibit common behavioral habits, habits that can boost anyones creative capacity.”
-Stephen R. Covey, author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Leader in Me

Now, action….

That was the background. This week we are turning a corner on “The Innovator’s DNA”. For the first time, we will bring the full, extensive material into our teaching sessions. While we have talked about “The Innovator’s DNA” during our keynote presentations, a leading oil & gas company in Norway is now exploring the tools and tests within the material. This week, we will introduce “Your Innovator’s DNA Profile” into an executive teaching session. We will, for the first time, explore “Innovation – and its implications for leadership development”.

Looking back at these few last months, we feel we have found the missing pieces of the puzzle, and perhaps come several leaps closer to answering “What do innovative leaders do?”, and “What leadership behaviors drive innovation?”. Now, only the work remains. Let’s get to it.


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