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Ten Tips for the Innovative Leader

By Paul Sloane

The critical importance of creativity and innovation is well understood but many leaders find it difficult to translate those ideas into action. They have successfully developed a culture and processes for efficiency, execution, quality, direction and achieving quarterly goals. By using the following ten tips, leaders can then add the unorthodox thinking and experimentation that will lead to high value innovation.

1.Have a Vision for Change

A team cannot be expected to be innovative if they do not know the direction in which they are headed. Innovation must have a purpose. It is up to the leader to set the course and provide a direction for the future – one overarching statement that defines the direction for the business, and which people will readily understand and remember. Great leaders spend time illustrating the vision, the goals and the challenges. They explain to people how their roles are crucial in fulfilling a company’s vision and meeting the challenges. They inspire men and women to become passionate entrepreneurs, finding innovative routes to success.

2.Fight the Fear of Change

Innovative leaders constantly evangelize the need for change. They replace the comfort of complacency with the hunger of ambition. “We are doing well but we cannot rest on our laurels – we need to do even better.” They explain that while trying new ventures is risky, standing still is riskier. Truly innovation leaders must paint a picture that shows an appealing future that is worth taking risks to achieve. This picture involves perils and opportunities – the only way to get there is by embracing change.

3.Think Like a Venture Capitalist

Venture capitalists (VCs) use a portfolio approach so that they balance the risk of losers with the benefits of winners. They like to consider a large number of proposals and are comfortable with the knowledge that many of the ideas they back will fail. These are all important lessons for corporate executives who typically consider only a handful of proposals and who abhor failure.

4.Have a Dynamic Suggestions Scheme

Great suggestion schemes are focused, easy to use, well-resourced, responsive and open to all. Leaders need not offer huge rewards – recognition and response are generally more important. Above all, innovative leaders must have the whole-hearted commitment of the senior team to keep a company fresh, properly managed and successful.

5.Break the Rules

To achieve radical innovation, leaders must challenge all the assumptions that govern how things “should” look in their organizations. Business is not like sport with well-defined rules and referees – it is more like art. Business is rife with opportunity for the lateral thinker who can create new ways to provide the goods and services that customers want.

6.Give Everyone Two Jobs

Innovative leaders must provide each person on their staffs with two key objectives: 1) ask them to run their current jobs in the most effective way possible and 2) at the same time find completely new ways to do the job. Leaders need to encourage their employees to ask themselves: “What is the essential purpose of my role? What is the outcome that I deliver that is of real value to my clients (internal and external)? Is there a better way to deliver that value or purpose?” The answer to the final question is always yes, but most people never ask the question.


Many CEOs see collaboration as key to their success with innovation. They know they cannot do it all using internal resources,so they look outside for other organizations with which to partner.

8.Welcome Failure

The innovative leader encourages a culture of experimentation. Innovative leaders must teach people that each failure is a step along the road to success. To be truly agile, a company must give people the freedom to innovate, the freedom to experiment and the freedom to succeed. That means people must have the freedom to fail, too.

9.Build Prototypes

Leaders should encourage trying new ideas (at low costs in small sections of the marketplace) to learn customers’ reactions. A company will learn far more in the real world than in the test laboratory or with focus groups.

10.Be Passionate

Innovative leaders must, obviously, focus on the things that they want to change. But they must also focus on the most important challenges they face, and be passionate about overcoming them. A leader’s energy and drive will translate itself into direction and inspiration for the company as a whole. It is no good filling a bus with contented, complacent passengers; an innovative company needs evangelists, passionate supporters – people who believe that reaching the destination is worth the effort. If leaders want to inspire people to innovate, to change the way they do things and to achieve extraordinary results, then the leaders must be passionate about what they believe in and must communicate that passion every time they speak.

About the Author:

Paul Sloane is the founder of Destination Innovation, a consultancy that helps improve innovation. He gives talks and workshops on leadership, creativity and innovation. He is the author of 17 books; the most recent is The Innovative Leader, published by Kogan-Page. Contact Paul Sloane at psloane (at) or visit