If one is to explore the characteristics of a person who effectively leads innovation, then it would be natural to discuss leadership styles. Which one is it?

In writing this last post on leading innovators, servant leadership as a style to describe these great leaders came to mind. I thought also about the transformational leader, so I spend time going back and forth between these two leadership styles trying to make the best match–as if there was such thing.

In my research (to help me make up my mind), I found both servant leadership and transformational leadership styles were prominent in over 20 articles that were trying to make a correlation between transformational or servant leadership and innovation. So I went back to the “drawing board” to see what else I could find.

Once convinced that those leading innovators were transformational leaders, a different study depicted servant leadership and its effects on innovation as the cause to think that servant leadership was the foundation for effectively leading innovation.

In the end, I deduced that although the two leadership styles are different, the leadership behavior of leading innovators towards their followers could be said to have strong similarities in both servant and transformational leadership styles.

The best way to discuss this last point is to briefly compare and contrast the two styles. Doing this comparison from the expert research’s point of view may be a good way to bring clarity to the discussion. Scholars like Peter Northouse, Gregory Stone, and Kathleen Patterson, offer similar definitions about transformational and servant leadership.

The two leadership styles are different, but the behavioral focus towards the followers is mostly the same.

Transformational leadership is described as a process, and it is concerned with charismatic and visionary leadership. In the leadership journey, leaders become efficient at articulating and inspiring through vision, building trust, and respect. The leaders and the followers connect, and that connection raises the level of motivation in both leaders and the followers. Transformational leadership is more concerned with progress and development in the organization.

On the other hand, servant leadership’s basic idea is that the motive of the leader is to serve, and in that process of serving, he or she makes the choice to lead. In that, the servant becomes the leader, a leader who places the good of followers over self-interest, emphasizing across the leadership continuum respect and the follower’s development. Respect and reverence for others give the servant leader moral authority to express his or her convictions and develop the human potential of the followers.

Leading Innovators at Work

In the study of leadership characteristics of innovative leaders, and the connection to innovation, one can see why both leadership styles appear back and forth: they both focused and were concerned with the follower’s development, although both did it in different ways.

The World Economic Forum studied innovative leaders from across a variety of places and countries—from Silicon Valley to Europe and to the United Arab Emirates, and from India to Africa and to Korea—they found innovative leaders have the two below-mentioned behaviors in common, regardless of the country they lived in or the industry where they innovated from.

  • First, they created capacity: the capacity for collaborative problem-solving, the capacity to learn by discovery and experimentation, and the capacity to create new and better solutions by integrating ideas.
  • Secondly, leading innovators created a culture of community with three qualities: common purpose, shared values, and mutual rules of engagement.

The behavior of these innovative leaders was both transformational and servant. These leaders transformed the values of their followers to support the vision and goals of the organization.

Additionally, through the leader’s actions to deliberately develop and meet the needs of the followers, the followers flourished and were able to become creative and innovative.

Reflection Moment

Surely, the discussion above is a tall order. This is not about you or me, it’s about our people. With the right focus in mind, we can assess ourselves against the following questions:

  • Leaders are busy every day, but how many hours in the month do you dedicate to the development of your people?
  • As you look or think about the future of work, what kind of skills do you foresee will be the most crucial for your organization in the next five years? What percentage of your time are you spending on preparing your people for the future of work?
  • How are you improving the communication in the organization to advance cross-functional learning?
  • And finally, how are the members of the organization sharing the values of the organization, and how are you part of that movement?

 Final thoughts about the Leading Innovators series…

There is no doubt that leaders are important in all sorts of organizations, but we have come to the time where leaders must become much more: leading innovators!

This 4-part series was a discussion about leadership, mainly about the leader who through his or her attributes became a leading innovator. One can recognize a leading innovator because they exhibit four characteristics:

These are powerful lessons. In a time where everyone speaks about innovation, the important thing is not the talk but the walk. We recommend that each leader seeking to solve the riddle about how to innovate spend focused time developing these four characteristics. This is how the best will transcend from leader to leading innovator. Those organizations being led by leading innovators will achieve competitive advantages.

Always motivated, lugo

©2018 LugoSantiago Enterprise Group

References and Notes:

Eisner, S. 2016, “The “In-Factor”: Signature Traits of Innovation’s Leaders”, Journal of Applied Business Research, vol. 32, no. 1, p. 185.

Hickman, C. & Raia, C. 2002, “Incubating innovation”, The Journal of Business Strategy, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 14-18.

Hill, L. A. 2016, “Is this what is takes to be an innovative leader?” World Economic Forum, [online] Available at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/is-this-what-it-takes-to-be-an-innovative-leader/.

Northouse, P. G. (2016), Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.), Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Shunlong, X. & Weiming, Z. 2012, “The Relationships between Transformational Leadership, LMX, and Employee Innovative Behavior”, The Journal of Applied Business and Economics, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 87-96.