Innovative Leadership – Critical to Address Current Challenges

In this time of dramatic change in our business and government environment, the need for leaders to refine their leadership approach has never been more critical to survival and success of their organizations.

Innovative leadership is the type of leadership that allows already successful leaders to raise the bar on their performance and the performance of their organizations.

An innovative leader is defined as someone who consistently delivers results using the following:

  • Strategic leadership that inspires individual goals and organizations vision and cultures;
  • Tactical leadership that influences an individual’s actions and the organizations systems and processes.
  • Holistic Leadership that aligns all key dimensions:  Individual, culture, action and systems.

We have often differentiated leadership from management in leadership books and classes and yet this definition includes both because, to fully implement innovative change, the organizational leaders need to both set the strategy and be sufficiently involved in the tactics to ensure innovation and changes happen.  This does not mean micro managing – it just means an awareness and involvement in all elements of the innovation and change process. This includes continually growing and evolving their own leadership capacity and actions, leading and implementing culture and system changes within the organization.

Let’s look at an example of a leader who faced a change she had not previously faced in her business.  She ran an organization focusing on creating drug free workplaces.  She built a strong successful business and yet, as happens with many organizations, external pressures changed her market.  The government provided many of these services at a lower cost.  Being a very innovative leader, she worked with her immediate team and sought external input on possible options.  As of this writing, she is launching multiple small pilot projects to test the interest of the market.  They will take the results of the pilots and determine how to refine the course of the business to ensure long term organizational success and customer service.  It is important to note that some of these pilots reflect small changes based on distribution channel and methods of delivery.  Others seem radical and include significant expansion of the organization’s mission.  Because the founder is proactive and open to exploring a broad range of changes, she will find a series of innovations that allow the organization to thrive.  Part of her success in making significant change will include looking at the entire system to make holistic changes including how she herself leads the organization.  This is one of the qualities that is unique to innovative leaders, they are continually looking at who they are in the context of the organization and they continue to change and grow as they change their organizations.

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What are specific qualities that differentiate an innovative leader from a traditional leader? In our time of rapid business, social and ecological change, a successful leader is a leader who can continually:


  • Clarify and effectively articulate vision
  • Link that vision to attainable strategic initiatives
  • Develop themselves and influence the development of other leaders
  • Build effective teams by helping colleagues enact their own leadership strengths
  • Cultivate alliances and partnerships
  • Anticipate and respond to both challenges and opportunities aggressively
  • Develop robust and resilient solutions
  • Develop and test hypothesis like a scientist
  • Measure, learn, and refine on an ongoing basis


To further illustrate some of the qualities of innovative leadership, we offer this comparison between traditional leadership and innovative leadership:


 Traditional Leadership Innovative Leadership
Leader is guided primarily by desire for personal success and peripherally by organizational success Leader is humbly guided by a more altruistic vision of success based on both performance and the value of the company’s positive impact
Leadership decision style “monarchical;” leader has all the answers Leader leverages team for answers as part of the  decision-making process
Leader picks a course in “black/white” manner; tends to dogmatically stay  the course Leader perceives and behaves like a scientist: continually measuring and testing for improvement and exploring new models and approaches
Leader focuses on being technically correct and in charge Leader is continually learning and developing self and others


This guest post is courtesy of Metcalf & Associates.  They are a  management consulting, and leadership development firm dedicated to helping leaders, their management teams, and their organizations implement the innovative leadership practices necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.  Included in these offerings is speaking, training, coaching, team building, and organizational transformation

Image: sheelamohan /

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