Profile of an innovative leader

We are living an unprecedented technological revolution, with great transforming potential. In this way we face technological change, climate change and demographic change. In the middle of the digital revolution, productivity seems to have stopped. Where we see wages threatened as a result of technological abundance. In this way we observe how inequality and populism spread; and the geopolitical scenario seems more typical of the early twentieth century than of this 21st century.

In innovation changes are slowly incubated, sometimes for years, but they occur very quickly. It is what is called "S-curve". Periods of stability create the conditions for a chain reaction, and a jump to a new technological paradigm, which lays the foundations of a new economic or social model. Our generation is jumping from an old S-curve to a new one, which we do not know. It can be a new curve of abundance, or of inequality. Of prosperity or conflict. Therefore, we must be able to lead change to turn all this positive force of progress (knowledge and technology in our hands) into a new shared welfare scenario.

The old models became obsolete. In this way, many companies continue to systematically inject technology to transform our production processes, but we do not gain productivity. As Peter Drucker, a great philosopher of management, said, "there is nothing so useless as efficiently doing something that should not be done"

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Innovation and Leadership closely related

Innovating requires a group of people working collaboratively, a space where trust and fluency in communication allow creating value and solutions capable of improving our day to day.

The higher the leader's position, the more important it is that he creates innovative environments or cultures. For a leader it must be more relevant to be creator of innovative environments or cultures than to be innovative himself. Although it may seem the same, it is not.

Linda A. Hill is Professor Wallace Brett Donham at Harvard Business School and co-author of the book: Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation (2014), talks about the "collective genius", proposes the concept of leadership as an individual activity and "heroic" and describes scenarios in which it innovates collectively. In this context, what would be the function of the leader?

The secret to leading innovation is the ability to create an environment in which people "want" and "can" dedicate themselves to the arduous task of innovating.

The role of the leader means creating a space where people "want" to dedicate themselves to the difficult task of innovating, with all the stress and contradictions that entails. Create an environment in which you "can" perform that work, which, in turn, involves preparing the organization for three things: collaboration, learning through discovery and an integrating decision-making process. The set of these three elements forms what is called "collective genius".

The most effective leaders work their main skills around each of these three areas: "creative abrasion" for collaboration, "creative agility" for learning through discovery and "creative resolution" for integrative decision-making processes.

Collective genius skills

Creative abrasion occurs when a leader successfully develops a market of diverse ideas, the fruit of dialogue and debate. Instead of looking for a single visionary approach to enlighten us, innovative leaders know that solutions are more likely to emerge from the "sparks" that spring up when group members confront each other. The word "abrasion" is used because it is in its nature to generate a bit of conflict and disagreement - and that is why it works best when it is put into practice within a diverse community, whose members are united by a common purpose.

Creative agility consists of developing and testing different options through quick experiments, in which you learn from the results (positive or negative) and make the necessary adjustments.

The third aptitude, the creative resolution, is much more complex, since it has to do with the decision-making processes. Often, the most innovative solutions are a combination of ideas, including opposing ideas that were excluded. Even if a leader manages to have the first two skills, if he is not capable of making integrative decisions, he will never find innovative solutions.

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Bridging boundaries between organizations and sectors

It is likely that many of the companies, and sociopolitical systems, are not on time and to address a true digital transformation, but must be reborn digitally, with other processes, management models, systems, cultures, and leadership. Maybe you have to reinvent structures and strategies from scratch, making it impossible to transform old ones, on pain of making the obsolete faster and more efficient. It will be necessary to take a blank paper and draw again the whole system, with the new technological instruments in inventory, to make it really useful and fair.

In the end, it is impossible to plan innovation or ask people to innovate. But the good news is that, with organization, yes "can." Leadership in an innovation context consists of building an organization where the touch of genius of each individual is combined to create a unique collective genius, through collaboration, learning based on discovery and integrated decision-making processes.

These "futurist" leaders strive to build "ecosystems" that break down traditional boundaries between organizations and sectors.

In the case of organizations, they will not achieve an important degree of innovation until they rethink what it means for them to lead in innovation.