LEADERSHIP THAT DRIVES INNOVATION
“Innovation is not solely dependent on the participation of high-ranking executives but on employees that are students of the business, know their customers and their specific needs.” (Forbes, 2014).
Innovation as we see around us is fast arising around us. The demands of consumers around the world keeps changing every day. And then there are the environmental challenges and technological demands that require fast paced innovation.
Around the globe, we have seen several countries take action in bringing up unique solutions to human problems. The business world as we know is grounded and problem-solving, and the relevance of businesses are measured based on how successfully they solve challenges. “Companies today are fixated on innovation, to say the least. Many have reorganized so that ideas can move forward faster and with less internal friction. Forty-three percent of business executives that participated in a 2014 PwC study agreed that innovation is a “competitive necessity” for their organization. A recent McKinsey Quarterly article also describes how companies are experimenting with virtual-reality hackathons and “innovation garages” to step up their product-development hit rate. We know that much of corporate innovation travels along well-orchestrated pathways—a neat tech breakthrough, a product owner, and an orderly progression through stage-gate and successful launch. Occasionally, though, it’s a “crazy” idea that bubbles up through a lone entrepreneur battling the system, overcoming false starts, and surviving against the odds.” – McKinsey Quarterly, 2018
From Fintech to health to the environment, clever inventions are improving the lives of millions of people in Africa. Kenya’s M-Pesa by its 10th anniversary processed 6 billion transactions for 30 million users worldwide. M-Pesa’s makes it possible for unbanked people to pay for and receive goods and services using a mobile phone instead of utilising a brick-and-mortar bank – a model that has been adopted by several other countries and tailor made to solve similar issues in their communities. The story of Flutterwave is incredible; a financial application programming interface that makes it simpler to process payments across Africa. It is not just a useful tool for individuals, but also an enabling technology because it helps other businesses, including start-ups. It is helping Africa be part of the digital economy. Indeed, one of its clients is Uber. Ghana has its own unique innovation stories and MeQasa is one of them. MeQasa is an online platform developed in 2013. It connects prospective buyers and tenants, landlords, real estate agents and brokers to make the whole process quick and easy. A few years ago, MeQasa secured a $500,000 investment from Frontier Digital Ventures, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 2018 MeQasa announced the launch of two new mobile apps, together with a rebrand. Indeed, there are many unique stories coming out of Africa, the underrated dark continent that tails behind in innovations. There is the need to do more at a faster pace and doing it together with thoughtful leadership is the only way.
Leadership responsibility in today’s global landscape is to gather Leaders that are accountable, to assemble teams and lead them to optimal performance outcomes (Forbes, 2014). Innovation is all about making a difference, and without necessarily reinventing the wheel, many existing technologies can be optimized in brilliant ways. It takes a leader who appreciates the different opinions, cultures, thoughts and ideas of others to bring together people who are willing to look, learn and apply to make continuous improvements in our environment. The leader’s responsibility is to foster a commitment from the team to embrace challenges and apply the differences that exist in one another for their own success and that of the organization. Michael Arena, former chief talent officer at General Motors and author of Adaptive Space: How GM and Other Companies Are Positively Disrupting Themselves and Transforming into Agile Organizations, cautions that, while cross-functional teams are an important source of innovation at his former company and other digitally maturing ones, they are not a panacea. Innovation is a process, and it occurs in stages. “For organizations to be adaptive,” he says, “the very first thing we need to do, especially as we’re talking about org design and practices, is to ditch the one-size-fits-all mindset.”
One of the practical ways in which leaders can equip their employees to have an innovative mindset is to nurture them to a have a problem-solving mindset and equip them with the resources to do so. The fifth annual MIT SMR and Deloitte study of digital business revealed that nearly five times as many survey respondents from maturing companies as from early-stage companies report that their organizations provide them sufficient resources to innovate. Executives and managers therefore must strive to foresee risks and equip employees so that they know how to respond.
A McKinsey research conducted in revealed a wide gap between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute. From their findings, they discussed how a disciplined focus on three people-management fundamentals may produce the building blocks of an innovative organization.
The first suggestion was to formally integrate innovation into the strategic-management agenda of senior leaders to an extent that few companies have done so far. In this way, innovation would not only be encouraged but also managed, tracked, and measured as a core element in a company’s growth aspirations.
The second step suggested that executives can make better use of existing (and often untapped) talent for innovation, without implementing disruptive change programmes, by creating the conditions that allow dynamic innovation networks to emerge and flourish.
Finally, leaders could take explicit steps to foster an innovation culture based on trust among employees. In such a culture, people understand that their ideas are valued, trust that it is safe to express those ideas, and oversee risk collectively, together with their managers. Such an environment can be more effective than monetary incentives in sustaining innovation (McKinsey Quarterly, 2008).
Good leadership must support innovation. But what does leadership that supports innovation look like? One of the people who has introduced ground-breaking technologies in the recent decade is Elon Musk. From studying his person and way of thinking, I discovered a few things. For Musk, it is the talent of his people, the trust he has in his team, and a combination of collaboration, grit and resiliency that keeps his vision and innovations alive. In times where he has no cash to move forward with projects, or he has been criticized deeply for his way of thinking and sometimes extreme presentations, he has kept the fire alive in his team, in his company and in his mindset. He is a clear example of what it takes to keep moving through tough times, in spite of circumstances, opinions and obstacles.
Leaders can do many things to foster, manage and implement an environment of innovation but here are 4 keys steps every leader or person with an entrepreneurial mindset can take:
Collaborative leadership not only creates a work culture based on trust and respect that enable innovation. Collaborative leadership is open to help and finding balanced ways of incorporating several ideas from a workforce to bring about new creations.
Communication is listening to learn and learning to listen. To make space for new unprecedented ideas, leaders must learn the art of listening to their thoughts and that of others. Even when an idea sounds ridiculous and out of place, good communication among the team can help to filter ideas and make room for development of strong ideas. Good communication is never dismissive of information but rather, good communication embraces possibilities and seeks to refine. Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “To improve communications, work not on the utter, but the recipient.”Without the power of communication — two-way communication — few if any innovations that better our lives and livelihoods would advance beyond the idea (Goryachev, 2018).
Glenn Llopis, a senior advisor to Fortune 500 companies shares his thoughts on why change is a necessity in the journey to discovery and innovation.“Every leader must become a change agent or face extinction. As such, their teams must equally be charged to do the same. Accepting the role of a change agent means taking on an entrepreneurial attitude, embracing risk as the new normal, and beginning to see opportunity in everything. As you do, innovation becomes second nature.”
Many stories I have read and listened to about innovation have had one other thing in common and that has been correction. Just like children learning to walk, ideas are but toddlers that cannot work. But with diligence, consistency and perseverance, leaders can push for better. There is nothing that has ever been invented that did not need reiterations. Course-correction is at the epicenter of anything that ever worked to solve human problems, because humanity is dynamic and so must our solutions.
“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” – William Pollard.
You can be an agent of change whether or not you are in a leadership position. Leadership is not a title; it is the power within us to take charge!
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017. She has also been featured on CNN.
She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and @dzigbordi across all social media platforms.