Welcome to Part 4 of Don St. Clair and I’s discussion of leadership.

Rick: So I’ve heard you say in some presentations that I’ve been part of, and we’ve had some conversations, about how innovation is actually part of leadership. I have never heard of that word being utilized in a leadership talk. Can you tell me a little bit more about leadership and innovation and how they have to work?

Don: Yeah, and there’s a fair amount to unpack there but let’s start with this. People frequently ask what the difference is between leadership and management. And management’s basically about the present, management’s about control, so making sure that you know where you are in your budget, making sure you’re meeting your marketing or sales goals. You know, all those day-to-day things that you have to do to have a successful business or a successful organization.

Leadership is about the future. Leadership is more about the future. Now in 2018, if you’re leading an organization, you gotta be managing the stuff too. So there used to be this idea that management…it became popular to think management was kind of bad and leadership were good. No, you gotta do both. You gotta do both. But leadership is really about the future, and the future is about innovation and change. It’s not about what we’re doing now. The future is about what we’re going to be doing then at this distant point, or not so distant point, in the future.

The other thing we have to unpack is what innovation is. Now my phone’s over there on the table, but this is the point where I would pick it up and I would hold it up and I would say, “Everybody has a phone in their hands and everybody thinks of innovation as technology.” Technological innovation is the bell weather of the late 20th and the 21st century. It would be absolutely ridiculous to say otherwise. But that’s not the only place innovation occurs. You have innovations in customer service, you have innovations in sports’ strategies, you have innovations in music, and you have innovations in culture. So your responsibility as a leader is to create a culture in your organization that is open to new ideas and open to innovation at its base level. Not perfecting the jetpack so that we can solve all of our transportation problems, but finding new ways to do your thing better. That’s innovation.

Rick: Yeah, ’cause I think we look at like Blockbuster and Netflix, right? Blockbuster thought that they were in a certain spot that even when they saw Netflix, it’s like not going to be an issue, and now there’s no more Blockbuster.

Rick: Now that’s a service and there’s also some form of a product there.

When you think of leadership styles, is there a way to be innovative in the actual style of leadership?

Don: I don’t know that there is because I think leadership style is so individual and personalized. You lead from who you are. You lead from who you are and where you’ve lived, where you’ve been, your life experiences, where you traveled, where you went to school, and what you studied. All of those things going into making up who you are; so no one leads quite the same way. Leadership styles are like fingerprints.

Rick: Sure.

Don: Everybody’s got their own thing, and nobody’s the same. So I don’t know that there’s an innovative leadership style. I think there are some things though that make organizations more open to new ideas.

One of those is network, is understanding that new ideas don’t come as flashes of brilliance. This is my pet peeve about leadership or about innovation, I’m sorry. The big American myth about innovation is that you’re driving down the street one day, or you’re walking on the beach one day, or you’re walking your dog, or you’re playing golf and you stop and you got, “Aha I got it.” And out of nowhere, this brilliant idea came to you. And it just doesn’t work that way. Are there instances where that’s happened? Sure. Here’s what it more often is. It’s a culmination of events and activities and things that you did that lead you not to an aha moment but a moment of clarity when you saw the connections to things that you didn’t quite see before. This is important because that happens, that is fueled by a number of things including human interaction.

So there’s research that shows that innovation and creativity happen in metropolitan areas at a rate greater than smaller towns or cities that is roughly exponential to size because the more people are together talking about ideas, sharing things, the more likely they are to make these connections. So the innovative idea doesn’t come from me having this blinding flash. The innovative idea comes when you and I and three other people are sitting around having a conversation and you say something, and I say something, and she has an idea, and she has an idea, and this guy over here has an idea. And then one of us gets in the car and we’re driving home and we start connecting those seemingly unrelated ideas.

Rick: Right.

Don: And you go, “Oh. I never thought of it that way.” So you gotta have an organizational culture that not only allows but encourages people to communicate, to talk, to share. And I’m going to say one final thing about this, the problem with this is, can be that well, we have these meetings but those meetings aren’t productive so we’re not going to do those anymore, we’re not going to have those meetings ’cause we just waste time in those meetings. 90% of your meeting time is going to be wasted.

Rick: Yes.

Stay tuned next week for Part 5 of Don and I’s discussion, as we talk about understanding change.


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