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Innovation Requires Focused Leadership: Part 3 of Building a Culture of Innovation

By Joey Havens

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Innovation is a key to our future success, and we can build a culture of innovation within our own teams. This 3-part series explores what it means to build a truly innovative culture at your business or firm. Make sure to read Choosing to be Open Minded, Part 1 of Building a Culture of Innovation, and Culture Leads Innovation, which is Part 2 of Building a Culture of Innovation to understand the entire journey.

Recently, when Tom Hood addressed our partners at our annual partner retreat, he helped us understand what type of leadership is required today when we are faced with such a disruptive rapid transformation. Today, every organization must be innovative and must have an incredible commitment to learning in order to remain relevant. Someone said, “survival is not mandatory.” And unless we become extremely focused as leaders, we will miss an amazing opportunity for growth. This rapid transformation brings an abundance of opportunities to leaders and firms that are focused. It also means that everyone leads, but our top leadership must be intensely focused. 

Focused on what? Focused on opportunities, focused on hard trends and future facts, focused on changing the status quo, focused on learning new skills and focused on inspiring others.

It all starts with a compelling vision. In a McKinsey survey from earlier this year, they reported that transformation (innovation) is 5.8 times more likely when the CEO delivers a compelling vision for the future. If we are going to create firms, companies and teams that are innovative, we have to set the vision for what’s possible. Whether we are in a formal position of leadership or a new team member, we must understand and focus on our vision for innovation—our vision for the future. It’s everyone’s role today. If we are not a visionary, it’s our role to connect, align and support our visionaries. 

In this regard, what you’ve heard called “tone at the top” is critical. McKinsey research has also shown that transformations are 6.3 times more likely to succeed when message is aligned. Each of us has a role in alignment. It might be understanding and focusing on our role, helping communicate the message or helping other team members understand the why. Alignment takes all of us working together. 

Transformation and innovation always generate strong reactions. Expect to be in conversations where objections, concerns and even excuses are communicated. Our ability to listen to concerns while also maintaining our focus and sense of urgency will be the key to our success. As John Kotter says, “it is not urgency out of fear or anxiety but urgency that drives out all complacency.” Leaders and team members must be willing to call out complacency and drive it out by staying intensely focused on the opportunities in front of us. 

Here’s the bottom line: we think too small. We really do. We underestimate our abilities, our analytical skills and the opportunities in our future. How do we overcome these tendencies? Let’s try having more conversations around what’s possible. Focusing on what’s possible releases energy, ideas and innovation within our teams. We must all think beyond incremental change if innovation is to take place. There is an extremely bright future for those who do not cling to what they did yesterday, who build a strong culture with a sense of belonging, and who set bold visions that focus on what’s possible.