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What do leadership and innovation have in common?

Great leaders see innovation as an opportunity to build capabilities within themselves, their team and across the business. Great leaders act with integrity, build trust and capabilities to rise others, to raise leaders, to empower and inspire people to continuously improve. Great leaders grow others.

Leading innovation asks leaders to tap into the potential of their team, to inspire them to get uncomfortable, to challenge the status quo, to continuously implement impactful and value-adding ideas, to think and do differently, and to embrace change.

Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – Steve Jobs.

Of the many approaches to innovation management, the human-centred process (e.g. 4DLX-Grow) sees innovation as understanding the problems people face, designing the solutions people want, and harnessing the relevant people for their input, ideas, and feedback.

These human-centered practices ask leaders to

  • define the way forward

  • practice divergent thinking

  • practice empathetic listening and

  • practice continuous learning

  • Define the way forward

Defining innovations builds leadership, insight, and innovation capabilities. Within the Define phase, using 4DLX-Grow, leaders look at the insight findings, the data, research, the business vision, the goals, and values to ensure they define a way forward that aligns with the strategic business vision.

Each innovation has its own guiding light, a vision that inspires the team to seek new ways to solve issues encountered, new ways to find what will work, new ways to discover what is desired and possible.

The team feel empowered to explore different possibilities, they feel trusted and motivated, inspired to get uncomfortable, and to challenge the status quo by asking questions like, “how can we.”

  • Diversity and divergent thinking

Innovative leaders using 4DLX-Grow practice divergent thinking in the two of the four phases of the 4DLX-Grow Framework. The phases are sequentially ordered, Discover, Define, Design, and Deliver and are surrounded by the learning and experience loops that encapsulate the leader with a growth mindset that continues to grow with use, and the toolbox where the leader selects from a range of relevant tools appropriate to the situation. Leaders learn to use the same tools for a variety of situations and in a variety of ways, and with practice they develop expertise in knowing which tool to use when. Divergent thinking and doing are key concepts with the 4DLX-Grow Framework and are dominant within the Discover and the Design phases. In both of these stages, leaders are seeking different viewpoints, diverse ways of doing and thinking, and are purposefully practicing diversity.

Practicing diversity and divergent doing is when leaders ask their team to understand different viewpoints, and contexts, to see others through another’s eyes, to understand them. Leaders ask the team to learn from people, to explore, and ask what is going on for them, from their point of view.

The value of practicing divergent thinking is the domino effect. Leaders report that team members improve the way they listen to each other, engage with each other, listen to, and hear each other. The results are stronger relationships, a highly engaged team, a team that listens and understands other member viewpoints, and a happier team that moves faster.

By using the 4DLX-Grow Framework, leaders and their team are building innovation and leadership capabilities at the same time. They are building techniques and approaches such as empathetic listening, as well as techniques to present the different viewpoints on maps or visual artefacts so that others can also learn to hear different views. The practice of diversity builds innovative ideas and stronger teams.

  • Empathetic listening

The value of empathetic listening to innovation and to leadership is well documented. Leaders who lead innovation using design thinking and/or the 4DLX-Grow Framework practice empathetic listening during the Discover and Design phases. The team learns through empathetic listening. They learn different ways of seeing. They share their findings often using an empathy map. Empathetic listening improves the listener’s capabilities in hearing to understand what the other person means, which can sometimes be different to what they say.

Leaders empower their team to build capabilities to be curious, use their senses to understand, to see the body language, emotions, and to understand the context of an event or events, and what a person is saying about these events.

The art and science of empathetic listening is a practice of being present and curious. The goal is to understand the viewpoint of another from their perspective without judgement.

Leaders raise and empower their team as they build the capabilities of empathetic listening through the practice of continuous improvements, continuous learning, and innovation management.

  • Continuous learning

Leaders who practice, inspire, and empower others to continuously learn are building stronger teams who aren’t afraid to fail. These teams understand the value in learning from what didn’t work, which often occurs during the Design phase in the 4DLX-Grow Framework, where teams ideate, build prototypes, and evaluate them to see what works and what doesn’t.

By focusing on continuous learning leaders are building innovation capabilities within their team that include trust. The focus is on the learning. To continuously improve and learn, within the 4DLX-Grow Framework, leaders use various retrospective templates and canvases to evaluate sprints and innovation projects. They consider what worked, what didn’t, what held them back, what pushed them forward, things they couldn’t control, and things they could control. Leaders look at the various metrics, they measure and evaluate the results so they can learn and improve.

These practices within the 4DLX-Grow Framework help leaders enhance their leadership capabilities, as well as build individual and team accountability. The results are a stronger team, an accountable team, and a happier team who tend to move faster. The leader and team strengthen their teamwork, leadership, creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving capabilities.

Leaders who see the value of innovation as a driver of growth are moving beyond the traditional thinking of innovation as product/service development.

New leaders looking for ways innovation can improve business processes, or distribution, build stronger value chains, or new business models, and exceptional customer experiences. Instead of focusing on traditional limitations like lack of resources, innovative leaders are asking, “how can we..?”

The practice of innovation and leading innovations continuously, helps leaders build leadership capabilities, strengthen, and improve their leadership skills, and upskills their innovation capabilities. Leaders move quickly. They embrace problem solving as the “norm” and seek solutions, they are less likely to blame, and are more likely to raise others and improve the lives of people.

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