To stay ahead of the innovation curve, as a leader it’s imperative that you give your employees and stakeholders a reason to get up in the morning, come to work, and dedicate themselves to quality, innovation, and total customer satisfaction.
It’s not the same thing as paying them high salaries or offering generous benefits. People can be very well paid and the same time be totally uninspired.
Inspiration is a form of positive energy. Winning leaders do not cajole team members, nor do they threaten them into compliance. With crude tactics, no leader can inspire anyone in a meaningful and sustainable way.
Innovation leaders create a powerful beacon that guides team members and draws them closer. Inspiration can be stronger than any other force. I’ll bet you can think of a dozen global companies – Apple and Amazon are just two – that were started not with big paychecks or generous perks but only with a spirit of inspiration that drove the founders and their teams forward. They worked in garages and even college dorm rooms, driven by inspiration, and hoping for – but not expecting – financial success. Many entrepreneurs do not achieve financial success, but they still reach for the stars, following their inspiration to innovate.
The Three Attributes of Innovation Leadership
The ability to inspire is just one of the key behaviors for innovation leadership. But how do you do it? You can do it by understanding and mastering three attributes: vision, value, and viability.
Too many executives are not able to present a picture of how to recognize success. How can you endeavor a strategic initiative and drive strategic results when you haven’t asked yourself the basic question, what does success look like?
To inspire others, you must first have a vision of where you want your people and the organization to be in the future. Your team members need to be able to visualize what success looks like and how their work will impact their community. The visualization must illuminate some positive change to people’s lives.
If you have no vision for yourself or your organization, stop right now and start thinking about it.
In defining vision, winning leaders don’t just about the “why”; it’s much more. You have to fast-forward through the “why” to clearly visualize this in your mind: “If all goes as planned, what will our success look like?” Through visualizing the endgame you significantly increase your ability to communicate a clear vision to your team and a path forward.
In order to inspire your team and stay one step ahead, you need to have more than just a vision of what success looks like. You need to also verify that if your vision were realized, it would actually be valuable to society.
It’s incredible how many leaders obsess over missions that simply don’t matter. They don’t matter because they’re not valuable. They’re not valuable to your team, to you, and most importantly, your organization. Your team will only follow your vision if the vision makes sense and delivers real value.
For example, saying “It’s our vision to make high profits” won’t inspire anyone because it’s self-centered, meaning it says nothing about how your work impacts your community.
In contrast, saying, “It’s our vision that everyone in America should live longer by eating healthy organic food” puts the spotlight on the effect your work will have and the value it will bring to your customers. Remember that today’s employees are looking for more than a job; they are looking to participate in missions that matter.
Another common problem with a vision is that although it may have value, it may not be the number one priority, and chances are your team knows that. For example, saying “It’s the vision of our fast-food company to sell burgers at the lowest price possible” may be one part of your business strategy (that is, you compete on price) but it can’t be your all-encompassing vision because it’s a fragment. Anyone could sell the lowest-priced burger if it were tiny and made of crummy meat. By itself, it’s a meaningless vision.
By comparison, in the low-price fast-food segment the mission statement of In-N-Out Burgers, Inc. is, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”
It focuses on the overall customer experience, which is something that every employee can understand.
Winning leaders have a well-defined vision of what success looks like and they confirm and communicate the real value of a mission that matters.
We once worked closely with a multibillion-dollar organization struggling to recover from a serious management misstep. Before we were engaged, during an executive strategy session top leaders had decided the company needed to increase revenue by 15% in the coming year. That was all: “Just get revenues up!” To accomplish this goal, they brought in their internal branding team and other key executives to build out what they called their “Fast 15 Strategy.” To support the strategy they created logos, slogans, communication memos, launch meetings, and other messaging materials.
There was a problem with this frenzy of activity: There was no logical way the organization could achieve this rapid growth. There was no strategy other than to demand their employees magically make it happen. In fact, their ambitious revenue strategy was proposed in the midst of a declining market segment, and most market indicators indicated that the company would actually see reduced revenues in the coming year.
Of course the initiative failed. While the resulting revenue shortfall was bad, more importantly they did something that was deadly to their leadership credibility—they put together a strategic initiative around growth that was not attainable, and their teams knew it. To inspire others, you must present attainable goals. Protect your leadership brand at all costs by only pushing out directives and initiatives that are truly valid.