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Bruce Holland

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The Leadership Required For Innovation

This Strategic Snippet deals with the leadership required to build innovation within an organisation. I have taken two perspectives:

  1. Innovative leadership according to Tom Peters and
  2. Innovative leadership according to Bruce Holland.

How do you rate?

Tom Peters on innovative leadership

I think sometimes Tom Peters can be 'over the top', but if you look behind his way of writing, he has great stuff to say about innovation. In his book "Re-Imagine", he says:

"We still think in terms of planning and ordering change. But there's no longer time for that. We must understand that every boss's top job is not to make change but to find and celebrate change makers, hidden heroes who contribute to successful projects and whose work inspires others."

In the same book, Peters talks about the culture of innovation and the leadership required for it to happen:

  1. Leaders side with the action faction
  2. Leaders honour rebels
  3. Leaders promote weird demos
  4. Leaders make big mistakes
  5. Leaders create blame-free cultures
  6. Leaders breakdown barriers
  7. Leaders are talent fanatics
  8. Leaders nurture other leaders
  9. Leaders engender trust
  10. Leaders connect and are are relationship mavens
  11. Leaders are networking fiends
  12. Leaders push the organisation into a new value-added stratosphere
  13. Leaders create new markets
  14. Leaders love new technology
  15. Leaders are sales people extraordinaire
  16. Leaders master their organisation.

Bruce Holland on innovative leadership

The innovative style of leadership is becoming more important

It's important to realise that there is no such thing as a universally best leadership style; it depends on the business environment. However the business environment is changing in two ways that are making the innovative style of leadership more important than other styles of leadership. Firstly there is a trend in the business environment from a "more certain environment" towards a "less certain environment". In other words from the left-hand side towards the right-hand side of the first chart.

Secondly there is a general trend in New Zealand towards "weak competitive power" because there are more small organisations and even our largest ones are losing competitive strength in an increasingly international world. In other words we are moving towards the "Turbulent" top-right quadrant of the first chart.

The theory of alignment suggests that organisations that are in the top-right-hand quadrant of the first chart need a leadership style that is in the top-right-hand quadrant of the second chart. In other words they need "Visionary" leadership. These people, in terms of Herrmann's Thinking preferences are "D quadrant" right-brained visionary thinkers as shown in the second chart. For more on Alignment see ...

So what does an innovative leadership style look like?

Innovative leaders are visionary, macro, big picture types. They prefer to begin with visions of insanely great services. They work to achieve path-breaking innovations and speed to market. They are good at working in poorly structured situations, prefer to remain highly flexible, explore possibilities and keep options open.

They are good as change agents and like to use personal influencing skills. They are comfortable with criticism, confrontation, and conflict; they do not maintain group cohesion for its own sake.

They dislike bureaucracy, role restraints and established procedures. They are uncomfortable with details and lengthy decision making procedures.

Does everyone need to be visionary?

I'm not suggesting that everyone has to be "Visionary"; indeed that would be a disaster. Rather the senior team has to be weighted towards "Visionary". Nor do I mean that the CEO has to be "Visionary", but if they are not they need to find it within the organisation, value it and encourage it in others.

The five keys towards more innovative leadership

There are five keys to becoming more innovative leaders:

1. Search out and encourage those people who have a natural preference towards thinking innovatively.

Many senior managers talk about the need for innovation, but sometimes it's lip-service and sometimes they're schizophrenic. They want their organisations to be capable of more rapid change, but they still don't want any surprises. Managers want people to sense and respond to the environment, but they still don't want to say "I don't know". They acknowledge the value of diverse thinking in the organisation, but they're still more comfortable with people who mirror their own thinking.

I work mainly in large organisations (both public and private) and over the years; I have processed dozens of senior management groups through Herrmann's Thinking Preferences. In each group there have been C and D thinkers but the overwhelming majority have been A and B. Innovators may be rare but they will exist; to become more innovative you need to identify them and seed them into critical project teams. The Chart on the right is typical. For more on Herrmann's Thinking Preferences see ...]

2. Break down silos and the walls that impede responsiveness and change

A lot of my work is about breaking down silos within organisations. Silos cause managers to defend their power, hoard capital and talent even when those resources could be better used elsewhere. silos separate work teams, departments and divisions. They cause people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against each other, paralysing performance. These factions breed office politics and infighting that cause stress and exasperation that ultimately kills productivity and pushes the best people towards the door.

3. Reduce all low-value-added activities

In any business there are literally thousands of things that people can do to make the organisation work better. Indeed this is the major problem. There are so many possibilities that they become totally confused about what to do and cherry-pick here and there and end up doing nothing of value. The whole point of strategy is to achieve a narrow focus. The most important thing about strategy is "Being strongest at the decisive point"; in other words, knowing what matters and concentrating your horsepower there. I encourage my clients to select no more than 3 or 4 key strategies because this gives them enormous power, concentration and drive. Whenever I see a strategic plan with 10+ strategies I get concerned that the organisation has not thought strategically. For more on Strategy see ...

4. Continually seek improvements

This is a big subject. When it comes to improving innovation it's important to think of everyone as a contributor to ideas. For more on how to increase innovation at the grass-roots see ...

5. Increase speed in all aspects of work

As a strategic weapon, time is the equivalent of money, productivity, quality and even innovation. Yet, management seldom monitors the use of time with the same precision with which it measures sales and costs. Research shows that services typically only have value added to them for less than 5% of the time they are in the systems of the business. For the remaining 95% or more of the time, the service is waiting, and that time lost is usually affected little by working harder. But if the business is rearranged to work smarter, the effects can be dramatic. For more on faster ways of working see ..

Resources to help you become more innovative

  1. A tool that measures who your creative people are see...
  2. A program to increase the focus of your people see ...
  3. A program to improve the speed of your product development and service delivery see ....
  4. A program to help improve your innovation from top to bottom see ...
  5. A program that supportss and encourages peer-to-peer learning and sharing of ideas see ...
  6. A program to learn what your customers want in a highly visible way see...

Next steps

I believe left AND right brain thinking are essential to good business. In practice this means most organisations will need to develop the leadership required for innovation. If you need any help phone me on Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland.

Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work

Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills

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