Transforming Organizations Using Innovative Leadership

Change Leadership PerspectiveSarah was the Vice President of Marketing for a Fortune 100 company when we met several years ago. She was known throughout her division for the bright colors that she wore and for her equally bright disposition. Her ability to help people she feel almost instantly comfortable was a well-crafted skill. Sarah rose through the ranks in the company starting out as a sales assistant and then slowly earned her way to progressively more responsibility.  As an executive she was centered, focused, and highly successful. Having a conversation with Sarah in this setting felt that something of importance was about to transpire.

When we last met, she told a story of a senior director. “He was a top salesman when he came to us and was quickly moved into our high-achievers program. His numbers were always solid and his group was very productive when he was a manager.” At that, she looked down and paused.  “But even then” she remarked, “I would hear of incidents where people left meetings feeling demoralized—he has such strong people skills and is so bright—I thought these incidents must have been attempts to help his staff stretch. Now, in retrospect, I think I missed some warning signs. We are at the point where he has stepped on so many toes that nobody wants to work with him.”

Problems like those of this senior director are as complex as they are common. Though he had all of the technical skills, intelligence, and motivation to be a very effective leader, staff turnover, poor collaboration, and a reputation as being difficult to work with found him doing as much harm to his company as good. Part of the challenge in building innovative leadership is learning to leverage the clarity of your introspection. Looking inside yourself and examining the make-up of your inner being, enables you to function in a highly grounded way, rather than operating from the innate biases of more uninformed decision-making. This ability to reflect and consider how as a leader you need to change as part of the larger change initiative is critical to leading successful organizational transformation efforts.

Accelerating change continues to impact every facet of business. To thrive long term, business leaders must make implementing change a core competency that allows them to capitalize on our changing world instead of merely attempting to adapt to it.

Organizations clearly need innovation to successfully navigate the new economic landscape—and they are not getting it. It’s relatively rare for transformation programs to deliver the results that were projected in the original business case. Simply put, companies attempting to traverse the new economic landscape with incomplete tactics will not succeed. In addition to looking at tactics used to implement change, we also need to look at the impact leadership has on the organization’s ability to successfully implement change. An exclusive focus on systems’ performance and analytics can prove costly. Enhancing organizational capacity must extend beyond increasing system functionality.

If, in addition to developing better functional processes, you begin to clarify strategic vision, grow leadership capacity, and build a cohesive company culture, you will achieve much greater and more sustainable success.

Complex challenges illuminate deeply held beliefs and force a change in how work is done, and also in the leaders themselves and an organization’s values. What results is more than a process change or innovation translation. A complex solution not only creates changes in processes, but allows a natural progression and forum in which to explore and develop personal values and beliefs, behaviors, and interactions. The most effective solutions to complex challenges are those that change the leader and the organization’s relationship to processes, values, behaviors, and interactions. In other words, the change process works on the leader at the same time the leader works on the change.

The concept of leading change starts with leadership and yet in many organizations the process often omits the idea that transforming leaders is part of the overall transformation process.

Innovative leadership is based on the recognition that four dimensions (intention, behavior, culture, and systems) exist in all experiences, and already influence every interactive experience we have. To deny the interplay of any one of the four dimensions is missing the full picture. You can only build innovative leadership by simultaneously addressing all four dimensions.

Because innovative leadership influences by engaging the four dimensions equally, balanced leaders are uniquely qualified to implement complex change with a much higher success rate. A primary reason for transformation failure is that leaders focus primarily on the systems, rather than the larger context that includes themselves as leader and the organizational culture.

Combining innovative leadership with a comprehensive change model to solve complex problems leads to a higher success rate. This success rate is possible because this new model:

  • Addresses complex problems by analyzing them and developing comprehensive solutions beyond those found in traditional problem-solving approaches;
  • Addresses the four dimensions: a leader’s intention and behavior along with the organization’s culture and systems in a systematic manner that creates alignment between them;
  • Includes the innovative leader in the change process by expecting the leader to innovate how they lead to keep pace with the challenges they are solving.

During this era of increased complexity, an accelerated need for change, and failed change initiatives, it’s critical for organizations to identify new models which address these challenges while maintaining efficient and effective operations.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

photo credit: suez92

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