Demand for innovation is on the rise across industries, even more so as studies show that it can be a key to unlocking post-pandemic growth. A McKinsey report recently noted that companies that maintained their innovation focus during the 2008 financial crisis, outperformed their peers by 30% during recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis to challenge this notion and ultimately stressed why innovation will remain an integral part of forging our digital frontiers in the decades ahead. So if innovation is here to stay, this brings us to a critical, yet often misunderstood stakeholder at play: innovation leaders.
...companies that maintained their innovation focus during the 2008 financial crisis, outperformed their peers by 30% during recovery.
PERSONA & RESPONSIBILITIES
Contrary to conventional assumptions, innovation leaders are not the actual innovators themselves within organizations. Rather, their mission is often focused on shaping the culture and processes required for successful innovation. While their formal titles, scope of focus, and responsibilities dynamically differ depending on several factors such as industry and company maturity, innovation leaders are uniquely anchored to a common creed, and that is to enable innovation. To better define the position of innovation leaders and eliminate much of the ambiguity surrounding this role, we’ve categorized a resounding set of attributes that often characterize the persona of a successful innovation leader.
A decade-long study found that the most important skill harnessing the synergies between all these responsibilities is an innovation leader’s omniscience, or rather their ability to understand all aspects of both business and technology. Innovation leaders navigate a complex organizational landscape. As such, they must possess the ability to work effectively as group members and build cooperative teams; mutually reconcile interest and activities taking place within the organization; publicly represent the values and vision of the organization; show empathy for their team’s challenges, while motivating and building enthusiasm. Additionally, they must establish and nourish relationships with internal business units and stakeholders in the wider tech ecosystem; not only to maintain an upstanding rapport with their network but to also stand as a figurehead that conveys industry thought leadership and be a source of inspiration.
LEADERSHIP AND ANALYTICAL SKILLS
To lead innovation requires not only vision, delegation, and empathy, but also a keen strategic insight into future trends and technologies, and business acumen. Innovation leaders are often tasked with solving complex challenges; they must be able to holistically envision a project, understand the organizational stakes involved, and compel management and their team to buy into their vision. Designated as the chief resource allocator, they are tasked with making long and short-term resource commitments in “real-time,” ensuring that its unit’s pivot does not overextend and, or can be a feasible execution. The breadth of technical and industry knowledge of an innovation leader cements their ability to not only establish information networks but discern what external sources or privy information is credible or relevant to their innovation strategy. Over the years, what has distinguished them to rise into this specific leadership position is their refined command to be organized, punctual, decisive, flexible, systematic, thoughtful, optimistic, and self-critical.
ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT & MENTAL TOUGHNESS
The entrepreneurial drive and confidence of an innovation leader enable them to spearhead the organization’s efforts to improve its efficiency, adapt to technological shifts, and adopt unconventional methods that would perhaps be seen as too risky. It is their passion for innovation that maintains their ability to provide a clear vision of what they want to achieve and fuel the agility needed to accomplish those objectives. Innovation leaders understand that many of their decisions will be drawn in conditions of extreme ambiguity; they expect to confront a plethora of critiques, limitations, and even failures that will demand their innovation strategy to be negotiated and renegotiated. It is in these challenging conditions that an innovation leader’s persistence to carry on is attributed to their refined mental toughness. Simply put, innovation leaders are driven to get things done and effectively deploy their creativity and passion for innovation.
As innovation leaders strive towards being ubiquitously embraced as an integral pillar of their organization, they must utilize their distinct persona to accelerate innovation. Whether its clarifying our deepening convergence with AI, combating climate change, or securing our cyber frontier, the global and versatile nature of innovative solutions will demand that they also prioritize building and nurturing strong relationships across ecosystems. Doing so will not only widen their access to deep industry knowledge, but also cement their authority as a passionate and informed leader that seeks to bring about holistic change.
To learn more about the people behind successful innovation download our latest Innovation Leaders report.