Almost every CEO that i meet wants to find out a way to out-innovate their competition. They want to innovate to improve their profits. They want to innovate so that they can help their customers innovate. And in the same breath, they also say that almost all their innovation projects are either struggling to take off or have not yielded the kind of results that looked possible. They all want to know what could be the potential reasons and what can they do to address this situation, given their current limitations.
If there is only one thing that if changed, can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the innovation projects in an organisation, it is the person who is leading the innovation program. There are fewer low hanging fruits for organisations that can have as much impact as having the right person leading the innovation program. I have found that managers who have the following traits prove to be much more successful in leading innovation efforts than managers who don’t have them. So, here are the character traits that helps manager succeed in their innovation efforts.
Comfortable with ambiguity:
Managers who are successful with innovation projects are comfortable with ambiguity. They know that by definition, an innovation program is walking into unknown territory, with nothing but a map and a destination in mind. There will be times when there seems to be no progress being made. There will be times when it will seem like the team is going backwards. And then there will be times when there seems to be a lot of progress. The managers understand this dynamic and are comfortable with all of these and they trust the process and their team. Not only are they comfortable with all of these, they also ensure that their teams don’t get swayed too much by either lack of visible progress or too fast process.
Managers who are successful with innovation projects are extremely persuasive. Their persuasive abilities are tested every single day. They persuade their team that they are on the right path, when they feel lost. They persuade them that they need to slow down when they seem to be on a roll (but maybe in the wrong direction). They need to persuade their superiors to continue to fund the program, irrespective of any visible progress. They need to persuade their peers to collaborate with their teams. This means that in order to successfully navigate an innovation program, the managers need to understand and be experts in the art of persuasion.
Well – Balanced:
Managers who are successful with innovation projects are extremely well-balanced people. They are emotionally mature people. They understand that the entire journey of coming up with an innovation is a roller-coaster ride. There will be times when you feel on top of the world. Then there are times when you feel like burying yourself somewhere all alone. Then there are times when everyone on the team seems to be at conflict with one another. A good manager knows and understands all of this. He is able to facilitate the right kind of conversations within the team, appropriate to the stage of the innovation process.
All of the above are good characteristics to have in any manager. However, they are especially critical in an innovation manager, as the stakes are higher. A good innovation team will typically have a lot of different personalities and personality clashes in a highly charged environment is common. So, it is important to identify a manager who has all three of these traits to lead an innovation project in your organisation, to ensure that you don’t risk failure right from the start.