Innovation & Creativity (Leadership Competency)

Innovation Creativity Leadership
Image Credit: shutterstock/Kantver

Defined: Creativity is the ability to imagine or realize something new. Innovation is the realization of something new.

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.” – Nikos Kazantzakis

Creativity and innovation separate the most financially successful companies in any given industry from mediocre performers. Innovative companies are those that introduce products and services that provide solutions to deficiencies in previous versions, or that otherwise increase the value of their offerings or the customer experience. Less innovative companies tend not to allow much room for employees to exercise creativity to extents that leads to much innovation. Companies that thrive on innovation tend to be vibrant collaborative work environments, where teams are enabled to perform as idea generators. Experimentation is encouraged in such richly creative companies, and mistakes and failures are understood as a natural to a strong and forward-thinking management model.

Leaders Skilled in Innovation & Creativity

  • Question the usual ways things have been done
  • Use new approaches in examining problems
  • Draw from diverse sources of opinions and ideas
  • Support creative processes and act to acquire resources for implementation
  • Are effective in following through on the implementation of ideas
  • Use learning from trial and error in new efforts to realize innovations
  • Introduce good ideas for improvements
  • Continuously exploring the marketability of potential new products/services
  • Inspire others to think creatively and share ideas

What Prevents the Ability to Innovate & Create

  • Aversion to risk
  • Fear of failure, embarrassment, or being wrong
  • Overloaded work schedules
  • Limited life experience and perspective
  • A regimental system that does not permit room for experimentation
  • Complacency, or contentment with the status quo
  • Lack of intellectual curiosity
  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of product, service, industry or market knowledge
  • A negative attitude toward the potential for success of new approaches
  • Over-focus on change, lack of balance, a sacrifice of efficiency
  • Intimidating persona, discouraging creative suggestions and efforts
  • Too many ideas that are too far outside the box, and not enough that can be implemented

Self-Coaching Questions

  • In your view, how creative and innovative are you? How about your team members? How creative and innovative do you believe they are as individuals? As a group?
  • Do you tend to think a lot about improvement ideas, or about new product or service concepts in your industry? Do you produce creative ideas and undertake innovative changes to your company's products, services or processes?
  • Do you find the prospect of change to routines and methods unsettling? Do you tend to believe that ideas for new approaches are a waste of time and that the way things have been done is good enough?

Tips for Innovation & Creativity

  • If you don't think of yourself as a creative person, consider why not. Is it fear of risk, fear of failure, perfectionism, another syndrome that can paralyze innovative advancement?
  • Question the existing methods and old standards, limits, and beliefs in what is necessary and what is possible.
  • Spend time absorbing experiences and gaining inspiration from the world outside of the office.  Visit unique areas. Travel abroad, if possible.
  • Talk to sales and service employees and others who deal directly with prospects and customers about the feedback they receive and about their ideas for improvements of products and services based on what they're hearing.
  • Look at problems and obstacles as opportunities for innovation.
  • Tackle complex challenges by dividing work into smaller amounts. Organize with flowcharts and diagrams as needed to further incrementalize and order work to be done.
  • Work with others to brainstorm and combine input on researching, resources, strategy, execution, refinement, marketing. Assemble the most diverse innovation project group possible, from different experiences and roles.
  • Provide guidance on innovation projects, but avoid stifling creative processes by micromanaging.
  • Embrace mistakes as a natural part of the process of innovation. Refrain from blaming. Use failures as learning opportunities.
  • Ask some people to play “Devil's Advocate”, to debate against new concepts and processes that you have in mind. Get additional opinions from outside sources, including industry experts, customers, etc..
  • Set an example of nurturing a culture of innovation. Encourage fresh, practical ideas and experimentation.
  • Reward successful innovative efforts and celebrate positive outcomes.

Developmental Action Plan for Innovation & Creativity

  • LEARN: Read the book (or LEADx Summary), Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull.
  • LEARN: Watch “Pioneering New Models of Innovation” webinar, in LEADx.
  • LEARN: Listen to the podcast “Creativity Rules | Tina Seelig”, in LEADx.
  • LEARN: Read the book (or LEADx Summary), The Innovator's Solution, by Clayton Christensen.
  • REFLECT: Does personality impact creativity? Use the Leadership Self-Reflection: Innovation Blockers worksheet, in the LEADx Library.
  • SCHEDULE: Go on a field trip this week to an unusual place (e.g., toy store, competitor, different industry) and notice how they do things differently.
  • SCHEDULE: Plan a “show & tell” meeting; ask team members to bring new ideas, industry news, things they've learned, or samples from competitors.
  • PRACTICE: Read innovation magazines/websites like Wired or Fast Company. How could those new ideas be applied in your industry?
  • APPLY: Pick a company initiative or problem and lead your team in a brainstorming session for it; encourage their creativity.
  • APPLY: In meetings this week, push yourself and others to increase the number of ideas generated; don't be content with just 1 good idea.
  • APPLY: Get permission to launch an experiment (i.e., a pilot project) that might impact sales, service, costs, quality or engagement.
  • MEASURE: Evaluate how others perceive your development in this area with a 360-survey, or simply by asking your manager and peers for direct feedback.

Additional Points for Thought

The broader your base of product, service, company, industry and market knowledge, and the more lively your personal level of motivation to lead on innovation, the more effective you can be as a change agent for your company and, ultimately, as an industry disrupter. Well-informed, talented, motivated and courageous leaders who are confident in their companies' culture of support for creative problem solving are free to concentrate on innovating. A whole department and its customers, and by extension, an entire company benefits from such freedom to improve through innovation. Further, the freer the innovative leader is to modify processes in order to simplify, streamline, meet customer needs more fully, and otherwise add value, the more cost-efficient and profitable that individual functions, departments, and entire organizations tend to become.

Suggested Additional Resources

  • Ray, M and Myers, R (1986, 2000) Creativity in Business, Main Street Books, Random House ISBN: 978-0-385-24851-8.
  • Llopis, G (2014, April 7) 5 Ways Leaders Enable Innovation In Their Teams, Forbes, Retrieved 2-27-19 from:
  • Davis, S and McIntosh, D (2005) The Art of Business: Make All Your Work a Work of Art, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., ISBN: 978-1-60994-204-5, ISBN: 978-1-60994-399-8.
  • Comstock, B (2018) Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change, Crown Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, ISBN: 978-0-451-49829-8, ISBN: 978-0-451-49830-4.
  • Keswin, E (2019) Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Surefire Ways to Design a Workplace That Is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World, McGraw Hill, ISBN: 978-1-260-11809-4, ISBN: 978-1-260-11810-0.
  • Belsky, S (2018) The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture, Penguin Random House, LLC. ISBN: 9780735218079, ISBN: 9780735218086.

Suggested Internet Search Terms

creativity, innovation, how to be more creative, how to be more innovative, diversity and innovation, ideation, psychological safety for innovation, brainstorming, scamper for innovation

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at