10 Business Innovation Leadership Insights
10 Business Innovation Leadership Insights

How to cultivate business innovation tops the agenda of many leaders. Benchmark latest practice and state-of-the-art research.

Global corporate heads of HR and L&D and academic experts shared insights, case studies, and peer-to-peer advice on driving innovation through leadership at the MERIT Annual Summit 2020, which took place in Seville on 5-6 February.

Check out: Highlights from the People Development stream.

Define desired behaviours

What habits should leadership development programmes be aiming to create? What kind of behaviours make a difference in the context of innovation?

1. Make space for curiosity

Innovation feeds on curiosity, and curiosity develops when people have the space and time for it. Leaders should regularly block time for learning and personal projects, said Dr Luis Vives of Esade Business School (Spain).

2. Foster accountability

A culture of accountability is necessary for sustainable innovation. But you cannot compel people to be more accountable, according to leadership expert Gordon Tredgold from Leadership Principles LLC.

Managers and leaders can empower people to take ownership of their actions only if they lead by example. “Accountability starts at the top.”

3.  Take fear out of the equation

The main obstacle that gets in the way of innovation is fear, according to research by Carlo Giardinetti of Franklin University (Switzerland).

Few leaders would acknowledge feeling afraid, and yet this factor influences their behaviour. Carlo recommended that leadership development programmes prompt people to “write a new story: one that takes fear out of the equation.

Craft your Leadership Development programme

Once you define your learning goals, you can use these practical tips to design an effective programme.

1. Co-create a unique programme

When choosing a leadership development programme for your organisation, “don’t buy off the shelf,” said Julia Silies, Director, Corporate Talent Development, Grifols.

Rather, find a partner who will work with you to customise learning experiences based on your needs. Make the most of feedback for continuous improvement of the programme with each subsequent iteration.

2. Culminate in an innovation lab

How do you maximise the ROI on a leadership development programme? Use it as a real-business innovation lab.

Leadership programmes should forge new connections, create space to reflect, and take people out of their comfort zone, said Jim van Hulst, Director L&D, Johnson Controls. If the programme culminates in a real-world project, leaders can put what they learned to the test. New products and ventures they propose may succeed in practice, potentially leading to a significant ROI for the company. In the case of Johnson Controls, this was “in the millions”.

3. Make it fun

To motivate leaders to participate in a new programme, invest in making it an enjoyable experience. Think of it as a “gift” for your people, advised Camille Gillon, CHRO, Belfius Bank.

But how do you get programme participants to open up and embrace personal growth?

4. Create a safe space

An effective approach is to make everyone feel part of the same group, said Alastair Procter, CHRO, Media Brands Worldwide. Programme activities should be shared by all – C-suite members as well as managers, mentors as well as mentees. This creates a sense of psychological safety and enables transformation.

Focus on Insight

Leveraging emotions and reflection take leaders a long way.

1. Build emotional intelligence

The paradox of emotional intelligence (EI) is that the people who lack it most are also the ones who are least aware that they need it. Many leaders need to develop their EI capacity, said Dr Delphine Jumelle-Paulet, Head of Faculty, Mazars University (France).

So, how do you motivate leaders to improve their EI? Create experiences that spark recognition and bring insight. Delphine suggested play-acting games as a safe context where leaders can see their shortcomings.

2. Treat yourself to self-reflection

It is always a good idea to practise self-reflection as a leader, and this applies to HR and L&D decision-makers.

Expecting to have the answer to everything is a recipe for disappointment, if not burnout, cautioned Timm Urschinger, CEO, LIVEsciences. If you let go and empower people to organise themselves, you will have the room to focus on creativity and innovation.

3. Stay on the bright side of frustration

Leaders should be especially mindful of their actions when they feel frustration and anger, said Jeff Lindeman, Group Director, Operations, WD-40. An act of kindness such as an apology can transform a failure of communication into а relationship-building moment.

You can aim to create learning experiences that help leaders practise apologising and expressing gratitude. These habits leverage failure to create a culture of trust and safety as well as an innovation mindset.

Learn on

Are you looking for more effective, proven insights on corporate learning? Gain and contribute novel ideas and working solutions at the MERIT European Summit co-hosted with LinkedIn, “Rethinking Learning in a Connected World”, Paris, 18 September 2020.