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How do we get leaders to lead?

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

When asking CEOs, executives and board members about business growth, there is agreement that creativity and innovation are crucial ingredients. Research shows that 80% of executives expect innovation to contribute to increasing revenue and income streams. When asking executives about priorities often the answers focus on sales and short-term gains that meet the needs of shareholders and address profit margins. When asking about the disconnect between innovation priorities and actions, the reality is that most business leaders struggle with successfully implementing innovations that drive business and revenue growth.

In fact, 57% of executives say their performance on driving innovation across business units is fairly poor to extremely poor. The results show that the bigger the brand (company) often, the bigger the struggle is to innovate. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, most high-to-mid-level executives don’t have the capacity to drive innovation. When digging a little deeper this is because as the business grows, innovation leadership initiatives tend to take second, third or fourth place to managing the day-to-day challenges and operations of the business. The paradox is that it becomes harder to innovate as there is more to lose.

Leaders don’t want to stand out by rocking the boat or by proposing a different course of action. Instead of being leaders they often defer to being managers. They manage the status quo. Too often, as they move up the ladder, leaders lose the courage to disagree, speak their truth and challenge the status quo. There is more for them to lose and the focus is on maintaining position rather than on leading.

The challenge is how to get these leaders to lead. How do we get them to find their passion, to lead by igniting passion in others, to think creatively, innovate, and focus on business growth, even if it means challenging the status quo? The reality is they don’t want to change. They are content where things are. Their life is comfortable. The truth is they don’t want to get uncomfortable.

Some suggest the two-pizza rule. Make the teams smaller, more agile, any team is too big if you need more than two pizzas to feed the team. There is a suggestion that if small interdisciplinary teams from across the organisation come together with regularity and work on the bigger organisation-wide problems that leaders will emerge. Small interdisciplinary teams will make inroads into reducing the impact of the silo mentality. Small interdisciplinary teams build synergies across teams of people, so that processes are efficient and effective across the organisation and all teams. Some brands (organisations) achieve this by outsourcing some of the team’s memberships, others unit startups with grownups, others will network outside the organisation for inspiration and then insource team membership from within, others will propose hackathons each month or quarter to deal with larger company-wide issues.

What if instead of changing the people we changed the approach?

Utilising methodologies like Design Thinking and 4DLX-Grow can assist leaders in upskilling their leadership, creativity, and innovation skills, so they aren’t afraid to think differently, speak their truth, stand up for what they believe, or hear alternative viewpoints. Some of the 5000 plus leaders we have worked with say using the 4DLX-Grow framework is a bit like putting on a superhero’s cape, as the framework gives leaders the power to lead. They move away from managing to leading.

With their superhero’s cape on leaders speak their truth, think differently, challenge the status quo, debate alternative views, focus on fixing problems rather than talking about them. They lead and inspire their team to also challenge the status quo and to thinking differently. Each member of the team finds her or his voice. Team bonds are stronger. They move from a stationary position to people driven innovations that improve the workplace, the lives of the people they serve, as they find innovative solutions to improve customer experiences. These improvements have an impact on the bottom line and business growth. They aren’t just ticking boxes they are surpassing targets, achieving outcomes not previously thought possible and there is a sense of pride in their achievements. The team are stronger, happier and moving faster.

The 4DLX-Grow framework is a guideline solution with four key phases and a collection of tools within each phase. Learning all of the tools at once is overwhelming. Years of experience have taught us to teach leaders how to use a few tools effectively across distinct phases, and then when their confidence level moves to the right, to learn a few more tools, as they move from novice to expertise in innovation practices using the 4DLX-Grow roadmap. When used on at least a weekly basis to address problems, to seek out opportunities, to source ideas, or to address impossible situations, the 4DLX-Grow Framework gives teams a roadmap. It gives them a process to follow. The framework is agile enough to use in a range of situations and that is its strength. Leaders begin to get comfortable with the process even in uncomfortable settings. The process enables leaders to challenge the status quo, to build and enhance their capacity to create, innovate and to lead happier teams faster.

Key benefits

Key benefits to leading your team and fostering creativeness and innovation in the workplace using 4DLX-Grow

1. Increases curiosity

Leaders enhance their skills in asking questions. They learn more about team members, other teams, stakeholders and they learn more about customers. Asking questions are how you learn more about other people. When you learn you can make quality decisions.

2. Increases divergent thinking and diversity in teams

Leaders learn to empower others to have different views and to speak their truth. They learn the power in this and that silence is destructive. They don't just talk diversity they act.

3. Builds better teamwork

4DLX-Grow design thinking and innovation practices are a team practices. There are skills designed to enhance the team, build stronger relationships and activities designed to help everyone grow together. Everyone learns together, everyone recognises their own and other team member strengths. The team feel empowered to improve processes, streamline workflows, and create stronger bonds with and across teams.

4. Improves the ability to attract and retain talent

When used with regularity, and on at least a weekly basis to address concerns, problems, opportunities, or unknown situations, a culture of collaboration, trust, empathy, and collegiality exists where people focus on fixing problems and finding solutions. The outcome is the culture improves and so does the happiness of employees. Work becomes a place where people want to engage, be productive and stay.

5. Enhances problem solving

As with anything practice improves confidence. The more confident you are, the more you ask different questions, like how we can or why can’t we. As your critical thinking skills and problem solving improve you find yourself moving away from managing teams to leading teams. You aren’t afraid of the unknown. You are starting to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The 4DLX-Grow framework gives you comfort in addressing the unknown, in tackling uncertain environments and making decisions where there is a lot unknown. You aren’t afraid to make mistakes and grow.


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