BY MANIE BOSMAN
In a world where today’s cutting-edge innovations can become next week’s technological white elephants, a lot has been said and written about improving organization’s ability for constant innovation. While some excellent programs and strategies had been devised to this end, most if not all of these point right back to leadership as the critical factor in determining an organization’s capability to be innovative.1
To maximise their organizations’ innovative potential leaders and managers need to advance beyond mere logical linear innovation processes (e.g. innovations resulting from traditional technology-push and market-pull processes). Among other things, this means implementing systems for efficient knowledge management, and simultaneously creating learning- and innovation-orientated cultures throughout the organization. However, Dutch researchers Jerroen De Jong and Deanne Den Hartog found that leaders do not only influence their followers’ innovative behaviour both through planned actions aiming at stimulating the creation and application of new ideas, but also through their general behaviour and interaction with followers. They subsequently identified thirteen leadership behaviors that stimulates employees’ innovative and “idea generation” abilities:2
- Innovative role-modelling (setting the example);
- Providing a vision of the role and preferred types of innovation;
- Intellectual stimulation (a constant process to challenge creative thinking);
- Knowledge diffusion / testing of ideas through “transparent communication”;
- Consulting with people before initiating changes that may affect them;
- Delegating (with sufficient autonomy);
- Support for innovation (helping and encouraging innovative employees);
- Giving feedback (to employees and to customers about new concepts/products);
- Recognition (showing appreciation for innovative action);
- Rewards for innovative performances (financial or material rewards);
- Providing resources (it takes time and money to implement new ideas);
- Monitoring (to ensure effectiveness and efficiency); and
- Task assignment (giving challenging tasks to innovative employees).
Fact is, the need and urgency for innovation has passed the point where it merely offers the promise of higher market competitiveness and increased profits. In our fast-changing, highly capricious globalized marketplace constant innovation has become the vital lifeblood which sustains the vivacity and future of every successful organization. The decisive role of efficient leadership in this process is just another reason for leaders never to be fooled into thinking we’ve arrived, but to understand that constant self-improvement is a crucial part of the leadership journey.
1. Panuwatwanich, K., Stewart, R. A., & Mohamed, S. (2008). The role of climate for innovation in enhancing business performance. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, 15 (5), 407-422.
Steele, J., & Murray, M. Creating, supporting and sustaining a culture of innovation. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management , 11 (5), 316–322.
2. De Jong, J. P. J., & Den Hartog, D. N. (2007). How leaders influence employees’ innovative behavior. European Journal of Innovation Management, 10 (1), 41-64.