What Does It Take to Lead Innovation?

Does your organization stifle creativity even as leaders push for innovation? Have well-meaning efforts to become “more innovative” stalled or fallen short?

In a new white paper, “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation,” CCL’s David Horth and Jonathan Vehar argue that actively pursuing innovation requires considerable resources and deliberate focus — and that innovation leadership is often missing.

In the paper, Horth and Vehar create a picture (and to-do lists) for leaders who seek innovation but have been frustrated by lack of results. They draw on recent studies, best practices and hidden gems, as well as their own research and experience working with individual leaders and client organizations. They share:

  • The differences between innovation thinking and business thinking — and how leaders need to manage the tension between them. Leaders and organizations that are able to switch between these two modes of thinking will find a powerful antidote to complexity and an engine that can help them thrive — even during uncertain times.
  • Two myths of innovation … No. 1: Individual Creativity Can Be Mandated and Managed. No. 2: Simply Unleashing Creative Talent Can Help You Navigate Complexity.
  • Three essential building blocks of innovation leadership — the tool set, the skill set and the mind-set. A collection of tools and techniques are needed to generate new options, implement them in the organization, communicate direction, create alignment and cause commitment. Innovation leaders also need a framework that allows them to use their knowledge and abilities to accomplish their goals. The mind-set is the fundamental operating system of the creative thinker and distinguishes those leaders who enable creative thinking and innovation from those who shut it down.


Horth and Vehar also offer specific actions you can take to help your organization develop innovation leadership, including:

  • Create a mandate for change, backed by a strategy that embraces innovation. If you are not senior enough to create the mandate, gather peers around you who share your passion for innovation and collectively approach those who can create the mandate, or scale it back to a level where you have authority to make it happen. Use the IBM 2010 CEO StudyIBM 2011 Creative Leadership Studies2012 Capgemini Innovation Leadership Study and other evidence to get their attention.
  • Model what it will take individually and collectively for the organization to become more innovative. It is particularly important for senior leaders to walk the talk. Make managing the tension between business thinking and innovative thinking a priority.
  • Communicate challenging strategic issues throughout the organization. Use them as vehicles for promoting collaboration and seeking creative ideas.
  • Create highly diverse teams to address strategic issues. Help them overcome limiting differences so diversity becomes a source of novel ideas.
  • Give people access to creative methods and experiences. Even those with creative potential get stuck. Readily available tools, methods and experiences help them reframe and think differently about challenges and opportunities.
  • Design and build systems to nurture innovation. Look for low-cost ways to test and prototype new solutions.
  • Champion ideas that don’t quite fit, and network with your peers to find a home for them. Actively break down barriers to innovation, including internal politics and destructive criticism, as well as hurdles, gates and other unnecessary systems.


Read the full white paper: “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation.”

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Center for Creative Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) offers what no one else can: an exclusive focus on leadership education and research and unparalleled expertise in solving the leadership challenges of individuals and organizations everywhere. We equip clients around the world with the skills and insight to achieve more than they thought possible through creative leadership.

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In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
— Jonathan Schultheis

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