While innovation is an increasingly valued driver of business growth, it can be difficult to pin down and cultivate the specific qualities and skills that promote creative thinking and intelligent risk-taking throughout an organization. In Conference Board’s 2015 CEO Challenge study, 943 executives ranked human capital and innovation among the major long-term challenges with the potential to hinder business growth.
Companies led by CEOs with a propensity for innovation are in a great position to adapt to industry trends, solve problems, and generate unique value propositions. The entire organization benefits when leaders value innovation, and those who do tend to share the following crucial skills:
1. Active Curiosity
Business leaders who approach their professional endeavors with a sense of active curiosity are better able to improve their performance as well as that of their organization. They approach new situations with an open mind and actively seek new opportunities to expand their knowledge. However, to leverage their curiosity effectively, innovative business leaders must develop an understanding of their existing skills and strengths as well as areas that could benefit from improvement. In this way, they can work to keep their skillsets competitive by seeking to fill existing gaps in their knowledge.
By encouraging this same level of awareness and curiosity throughout the organization, leaders can help develop a company culture that values exploration as a means to positive development, both at the personal and organizational levels. Further, leaders should seek to establish a learning environment in which employees feel encouraged to share and explore new information, and in which professional development opportunities are frequently available.
2. Identifying Opportunities
Business leaders with a healthy sense of curiosity are well equipped to pinpoint lucrative opportunities for their organizations. Innovative leaders are highly engaged with their organization’s goals and consistently seek new opportunities to support them, whether by implementing emerging business strategies and technologies or by actively pursuing their own professional development.
Many of the world’s leading companies have exemplified the value of this skill by adopting the Japanese philosophy of kaizen, or continuous improvement. Still, business leaders must root this dedication to progress in an appreciation for existing business processes, taking care not to completely write off the status quo in the name of innovation. By recognizing what works about existing strategies, leaders will be in a better position to improve them through innovation.
3. Risk Management
Innovation and risk are intrinsically linked; when blazing new trails, leaders may not always know exactly where they lead. However, innovative leaders are both willing to experiment and adept at managing the potential negative consequences of new ideas. They ensure that risk management is a standard aspect of all strategic development, taking steps to identify potential risks, minimize their likelihood and impact, and draft plans to respond to problems that do arise.
While risk management is a necessary part of effective innovation, business leaders should ensure that these safeguards do not stifle development. Innovative leaders must strike a balance between risk management and progress. One way to achieve this is to limit the amount of time spent on analyzing specific situations; this can help leaders learn to more efficiently weigh the pros and cons of their decisions and undertake a more adaptive approach to business development.
Innovative leaders are able to quickly bounce back from failures, and they encourage their teams to do the same. This is because they understand the value of mistakes. By viewing missteps as learning opportunities, leaders can prevent minor setbacks from curbing long-term progress while making the most of even negative situations. This skill is vital to promoting innovation.
While innovative business leaders are able to glean value from mistakes and keep their organizations moving forward despite adversity, they are also able to recognize and accept when an idea simply is not working. They do not shy away from difficult discussions and operate in a results-driven manner that allows them to let go of bad ideas. Still, they are attentive to the needs and opinions of their teams. In other words, resilient, innovative leaders lead assertively, not aggressively.
5. Inspiring Innovation in Others
Leaders who promote innovation throughout their companies do so in large part by empowering their team members. They promote curiosity, knowledge sharing, and professional development among employees, in addition to creating both a culture and formal framework that supports the generation of new ideas. They also assist employees in learning to analyze risk and assess their own performance, offering honest and constructive feedback to help team members pursue professional growth.
Innovative leaders allow their teams to take ownership of the organization’s experimental efforts, involving them in discussions and decision-making processes whenever possible. By illustrating innovation as a collaborative effort requiring the input of all of an organization’s stakeholders, business leaders can ensure that innovation becomes more than a one-time initiative or quarterly goal; instead, they can help engrain the value of innovative thinking within the company’s mission and culture.