For the past 15 years I have been working with individuals, teams and organizations that have been searching for solutions to their problems that seemed unsolvable at the time. Having worked with companies such as Burger King, Colgate-Palmolive, Assurant, AlEn USA, Western Geco, MillerCoors, and many others, I was fortunate to interact with all types of people. I have worked with marketing, sales, operations, research, technologists, scientists, engineers, nurses and doctors. Through these different backgrounds, I have found common characteristics that bind successful innovators together:
They listen more than they speak.
Innovators by nature are terrific problem solvers and by process, tend to take in a lot of information and data, and take it in very quickly. In order to do so they must listen to others and feed off of what they are hearing in order to effectively process the new information and use it to help create solutions. The innovator thrives on this gathering of new data and needs other to provide it to them. They choose their words wisely when responding and interacting with others in order to continue their own data gathering, making sure not speak in a way that cuts off the flow of information.
They are more analog than digital.
Technology has done so much for mankind over the last 15 years the impact is almost immeasurable. Innovators tend to be more on the manual side of the world. Being far more appreciative of the tactile approaches to writing and doing instead of watching. They are stimulated by visual, auditory and kinesthetic actions in meetings as a whole. They prefer a whiteboard or flipchart to discuss and display versus the meeting killer known as PowerPoint. The monotony of electronic communication desensitizes them to the creative and innovative environments.
They "lean in" a lot.
Innovation leaders engage deeply with their peers and colleagues. They make the time to interact and hear what they have to say and pay close attention to what others do. The goals are to create immense value with every interaction and conversation. These interactions are intended to give meaning to every voice and to establish mutual appreciation and trust in any environment.
They envision tomorrow while maintaining today.
Innovation leaders responsibility is to create the future. What often gets left alone is the management of the status quo. It is a delicate balancing act of creating daily successes as they create the journey forward. The innovation leader has the sensibility to do both by keeping in step with the team and the organizational needs and developing alternatives that will help in the now and integrating new ideas into the flow of the everyday work. The realization that innovation is not just a special occurrence, and it should be part of the every day happenstances of the business.
I don't want these 4 characteristics to be a prescription for anything. It is the culmination of personal observations and interactions with clients and the teams that I have spent time with. Doing any one of these will make you a great manager, practicing all of them will help you lead.