You can’t talk about things you want done when you’re not setting the example. In every group and / or business that I’ve lead, I’ve always set the example; I don’t know any other way to do it. So earlier in my career it was a bit mindboggling to me when I encountered other organizations where the leader was not setting the example. They asked and expected their employees to behave in a certain way, but they didn’t walk the talk themselves.
And I’m talking about plain vanilla businesses that were in established industries, doing nothing out of the ordinary. And this is why it’s so hard to innovate in organizations where innovation has never been a priority: there’s no one leading, modeling, encouraging and celebrating it.
When leaders talk about innovation, no one really knows that the heck they’re talking about. Seriously, there’s talk about innovation everywhere, but how many are actually walking the talk? Not many.
What most innovation looks like is a copy of what someone else did first, and this is how most leaders view innovation. Most are content with simply following, and this sets them up for failure later on when it becomes a matter of life or death of the business.
You have to set the example if want innovation
Innovation is another code word for leadership. Remember, for things to change somebody has to start acting differently. Either you’re the one setting the example or someone else is. Celebrate if someone else is setting the example, this will send a signal to everyone else.
You delegate innovation when you foster innovation mentality across your company, then you’ve set the culture and it becomes part of your company’s identity. Then, and only then, can you drive innovation from the bottom up. First, you have to model it.
So what exactly are modeling? The innovator’s DNA: creativity, questioning, observation, networking and experimentation.
And by the way, assigning someone the responsibility for innovation doesn’t work because your title doesn’t make you a leader, your example does. If there’s no walking the talk, nothing is going to happen.
Bottom line: You can’t mandate innovation, you have to inspire it. And it starts by setting the example.