Innovation is a Leadership Issue

I heard a quote some time ago, “Organizations that think they have an innovation problem don’t have an innovation problem. They have a leadership problem.” When I heard that quote, it got me thinking. I had to really stew on it, because at first I wasn’t sure if I agreed with it. However, the more I contemplated the comment the more I started to agree with it. We don’t have an innovation problem, ultimately we have a leadership issue. Any leader that doesn’t make innovation a strategic priority, ensures that there will not be any executable innovation.

Furthermore, leaders can’t just set the direction and course, then hope for the best. They have to be involved, if they want it to happen. Unfortunately, innovation doesn’t naturally happen. By default, organizations retreat away from innovation. In fact, it requires the day-by-day intentional leadership or it simply won’t stick.

So, what stops individuals from rising to the innovation challenge? Leaders will typically highlight factors such as talent deficiencies, the challenge of implementing innovation-friendly rewards structures, the still fuzzy nature of innovation, and, in candid moments, their own discomfort with the different mental frames required to lead innovation. These are real issues that haven’t been comprehensively solved. If you want to be innovative you need to be willing to take risks and step outside your comfort zone. In fact, you must be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.

It’s time for leadership to step up. Match innovation rhetoric with personal involvement and investment. Move beyond narrow solutions to more systemic approaches. Raise aspirations to being the most innovative organization. Actions you make today will have positive results tomorrow.


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