Innovative Leadership:  Spark Plug of Progress

by Ray Anthony

Mr. Anthony is the author of five business books and is President of Genesis Training Solutions in The Woodlands, TX.  Phone: (281) 364-7739, email:

If you're going to get your organization to make radical changes that will slingshot it warp speed ahead of your competitors, it'll be due to dedicated, passionate, and visionary leaders who think and act boldly.  That's the essence of innovative leadership!  Latest estimates tell us there are over 500 different definitions of "leadership."  Perhaps the only common denominator of those is that a leader has followers.  Although an executive or manager can be a "leader," leadership is more a role and state of being than a position or title.  Leadership is not about systems or procedures.  It's about people—about motivating, inspiring, directing, and developing them for peak (goal-oriented) performance.

I define leadership as the ability to get followers deeply committed to fulfilling a vision, objective, or course of action that they believe is achievable and worthwhile.  An innovative leader, though, is an exceptional and rare one; a person who promotes and focuses maximum effective creativity from followers to achieve remarkable breakthroughs in the organization.  These "galvanizers" get people to attack things they've only longed for and dreamt of previously.  Look at the successful leaders in any industry today and you'll see 11 common characteristics.

Characteristics of Innovative Leaders

1.  Fast and action oriented.  Speed, responsiveness, and agility are everything to innovative leaders who analyze situations, make decisions and act on opportunities.  They find shortcuts to slash red tape.  They'd rather make a wrong decision than blow a potential opportunity by cautiously sitting still and playing it safe until all the data are in.

2.  Immersed in progressive change.  Innovative leaders build organizations and foster a culture of on-going, never-ending change.  They ensure that their organizations continually learn, adapt, evolve, and improve.  Their first objective is to deal with turbulent change around them, then become master of that change.

3.  Future-obsessed.  The beckoning horizon ahead excites them.  These leaders visualize their organization's future and plot its course.  They're always asking, "What next?" "Where else?"  They create the future by visualizing it now.

4.  Masters of motivation and inspiration .  Vanguard leaders first get people excited, then committed, and finally moving swiftly.  They tap into secret chambers of the minds, hearts, and souls of people and know which "buttons to push" to activate their staff's pride, faith, hope, drive, and perseverance.  Innovative leaders make their followers feel special as if they were an elite exclusive team fulfilling some noble destiny.  They help their employees fulfill a deep longing for creativity and innovation.  They impart a sense of invincibility, power and control over their situations.  These leaders accomplish two overwhelmingly important things:  they make people feel good about themselves and they make them feel good about what they're accomplishing.

5.  Passionate.  Innovative leaders are incredibly driven.  And that rubs off on their followers.  They express emotions freely and showcase their excitement about new ideas and change.

6.  Super-salespeople and evangelists.  The secret of innovative leadership is not authority, but influence and loyalty.  President Dwight Eisenhower noted, "You do not lead by hitting people over the head—that's assault, not leadership."  Innovative leaders persuasively communicate an optimistic, bright, enticing picture of the future for their followers.  They elicit support along the way.  They're "dream merchants."  They keep the dream alive by referring to the grand vision or goal at every opportunity.  They convince people to get on board and stay on board.

7.  Rule breakers.  The only rule they have is, "There are no rules."  Bureaucratic thinking, even in small organizations, focuses on strictly (oftentimes "blindly") following rules, regulations, methods, procedures, formulas, policies, and playing it safe.  It's about "running a tight ship."  Unfortunately, it stays in the harbor a lot and that's not what ships are built for.  Innovative leaders get followers to discard their policy and procedures' manuals and, instead, create common sense, flexible, and ethical guidelines to creatively operate.  Set sail!

8.  Mountain climbers.  What do Alexander the Great and Eckard Pfeiffer, CEO of Compaq Corporation, have in common?  Both got their "troops" conquering more territory by repeatedly giving them challenging battles to fight and mountains to climb.  But before the arrogance of complacency of victory set in, they announced yet another new and exciting goal—a new peak—to reach.  "Are you ready for a bigger game?" they ask their followers.  By creating on-going inspiring short-term visions and galvanizing followers to rush toward them, will innovative leaders keep interest and motivation peaked at all times.

9.  Opportunists.  Innovative leaders aggressively seek out and grab ideas and opportunities before others are even aware of their existence.  They study trends, technological developments, and are well-rounded readers.  They're always asking themselves questions like, "How does 'this' apply to my organization?"  How can I use it or get ideas from it?"

10.  Builders.  You can't build good products in poor factories.  The factory of creativity is the organization's culture and operating climate.  A major role of the leader is to create an environment where imagination, smart risk-taking, aggressive initiatives, and bold tactics are encouraged and rewarded. As builders, they design their organization's infrastructure to support every aspect of innovation by helping to create or modify the organization's collective values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

11.  High-gain risk-takers.  You won't find innovative leaders thinking small.  Their plans are grandiose; their actions big and daring.  They seek large gains and aren't afraid to take smart calculated risks. These are people who create industries and fortunes, not by cautiously holding back, but by boldly leaping far ahead of the average crowd.

Innovative leadership is the highest form of leadership because of the huge contributions made in the lives of employees, customers, and community.  Innovative leaders take their companies to far away, exciting destinations.

©2000 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.