Innovation, Strategy and Leadership? It Means Leading with Purpose and Imagination

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Innovation, strategy and leadership are so closely interrelated and to succeed you need all those three. Innovation is the ability to different options in the future and develop a set of perspectives to guide them into the future. Strategy is the ability to connect customer needs and wants to the corporation’s core capability. Leadership is the ability to instill a sense of purpose for the organization and to mobilize those to work towards the goal.

What is the difference between leadership and management? Leadership is setting a new direction, creating a purpose and/or vision for everyone in an organization to follow. Management develops, controls or directs human and capital resources according to the policies, principles or values that have already been established.

What about “accountability”?, is that part of leadership or management? Well the answer is both. Warren Bennis once defined vision as "a target that beckons." Or we referred to it as “a shared destiny” or "a preferred future." It is that powerful and compelling dream about where we want to go that mobilizes people to help us get there.

Every organization needs a clearly articulated vision and purpose and it is the responsibility of leadership to provide it. Deborah Ancona, Professor of Management, MIT Sloan, outlines a framework for leadership under uncertainty that includes the following components:

First it’s “Sensemaking” which is a term coined by Karl Weick. It is about making sense of everything happening. In the very process of mapping the new terrain, you are creating it. Building on the work of Sutcliffe and Weick here are some tips for Sensemaking:

  • Seek many types and sources of data;
  • Involve others in your sensemaking;
  • Do not simply apply your existing frameworks and overlay them on the situation;
  • Move beyond stereotypes; Learn from small experiments; and Use images, metaphors, or stories to try to capture and communicate critical elements of your map.

The second one is “developing relationships within and across the organization”. Leadership is not an individual sport, and in our networked age the ability to connect and build trusting relationships is a key competency. While leaders try to create trust, optimism, and harmony, they often get anger, cynicism, and conflict instead. The core capability of relating centers on the leader’s ability to engage in inquiry, advocacy, and connecting. Inquiry and advocacy are terms coined in the pioneering work of Chris Argyris and Don Schon, as well Peter Senge. In order to enable effective interpersonal relationships, both practices are necessary.

Inquiry means the ability to listen and understand what others are thinking and feeling. It also involves trying to understand how the other person has moved from data to interpretation to assessment, rather than simply reacting to the assessment itself. It requires the leader to suspend judgment and to listen without imposing his/her personal point of view. And yet leadership requires having opinions and taking a stand.

The second area of relating is advocacy. This involves taking a stand and trying to influence others of its merits while also being open to alternative views. It means taking responsibility for your own biases and leaps to judgment while being able to say, “I was wrong, I jumped to conclusions based on insufficient data and overreacted.” Yet often in business there is a great deal more advocacy than inquiry. Sometimes we are so busy trying to push our own ideas that we do not really listen to what others are saying. The third area of relating is connecting. It is the ability to build collaborative relationships with others and to create coalitions for change. Tips for effective connecting are:

  • Understand the perspective of others within the organization and withhold judgment while listening to them;
  • Encourage others to voice their opinions; Be clear about your stand and how you reached it;
  • Think about how others might react to your idea

The third one is “create a compelling vision of the future”. While sensemaking creates a map of what is, visioning is a map of what could be. Visions are important because they provide the motivation for people to give up their current views and ways of working in order to change. Perhaps most importantly, visioning provides people with a sense of meaning about their work. It answers the question “why am I doing this?” Thus good leaders are able to frame visions in a way that emphasizes their importance along some key value dimensions. Tips for effective visioning are:

  • Develop a vision about something that excites you or that you think is important;
  • Frame the vision with an ideological goal; Use stories, metaphors and analogies to paint a vivid picture of what the vision will accomplish;
  • Practice creating a vision in many arenas; Enable co-workers by pointing out that they have the skills and capabilities needed to realize the vision;
  • and Embody the key values and ideas contained in the vision— “walk the talk.”

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