5 Leadership Traits of Innovative Leaders
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
Do you have what it takes to be a leader? Those who are already leading a project, a team or a company might answer, “Of course I do. I’m doing it.” Even if you are already leading, are you the best leader you can be? What will catapult you from good to great?
It can be difficult sometimes to pinpoint that exact thing that transforms a leader into a memorable, formidable force with which to be reckoned. Although some people believe that so-and-so was “born to lead,” unless you’re born royalty, you’ll need to develop leadership skills. Top leaders today share one important quality that enables them to lead teams down paths uncharted and sometimes unwanted—innovation.
Innovative leaders understand that to flourish, businesses require new ways to approach old problems, and that often means teaching old dogs new tricks within the ranks of the organization. What traits, then, do innovative leaders share?
- Build Trust. Innovative strategies assume risk. Who will put their neck on the line, potentially, for your innovative plan? The people with whom you have established trust. The leader trusts them to do their jobs and has created an atmosphere in which they can openly come to the leader with successes and failures. Team members and direct reports trust that the leader has their backs, recognizes their value, and won’t make them scapegoats.
- Talk Straight. Can your employees or team trust you to tell them the truth? Can you be honest with them, sometimes to a fault? People naturally follow the leaders that can communicate directly and with respect. Often, the most innovative leaders enable their teams to be more innovative by communicating visually with them, as well as verbally. Show them the direction and the objective at the far and allow the team to envision the path, or paths, to move in that direction. Be part dream weaver and part straight shooter.
- Collaborate. These leaders collaborate to motivate and inspire everyone toward success. They exude faith in the team, and belief in and loyalty to the organization. They move their teams toward solidarity through side-by-side leaps of faith toward lofty goals.
- Establish Stretch Goals. While good leaders excel at methodical, strategic planning that achieves proven results, great and innovative leaders understand that attaining new heights for the organization requires climbing stairs unseen at the moment. Innovative leaders help their teams achieve those heights by training them to stretch their necks, and the goals, into areas previously thought impossible. Because the “prize” is off in the distance somewhere, it is important to use small incentives along the way to prevent team members from feeling discouraged or stressed. Innovative leaders use stretch goals to keep their teams growing and to prevent them from feeling stuck in a rut.
- Inspire Vision. Even when the end goal is just a glimmer on the horizon, the innovative leader can inspire people in the room to “see” the possibility of that vision. As each step becomes more visible, these leaders nudge others along and correct the course, when necessary.
Innovative leaders don’t coerce or cajole people into following them along scary paths, whether they need to go there or not.
Will people let you lead them where they don’t want go, or are afraid to venture? Don’t dismay if right now you don’t think they will. As you grow into a great leader, it’s very likely your team will grow at the same time, willing to follow you toward greater heights and becoming better leaders themselves.18