If asked, I suspect most leaders would say they want to be innovative; however, when it comes to developing the requisite skills to be an innovative leader, we still have a ways to go. That said, there are at least nine qualities you need — or nine things you can do — in order to become an innovative leader.
  1. Innovative leaders connect the dots.
    Innovative people tend to connect the dots. Sometimes referred to as associational thinking, this happens when folks notice patterns and draw connections between things that may at first seem unrelated to one another. That’s exactly what innovative thinkers do. They see things — connections, patterns, solutions, ideas — within other things that most others see as unrelated.
  2. Innovative leaders listen.
    In order to connect the dots, and in order to be able to absorb and synthesize information from so many varied sources, listening is a skill that you simply can’t just be OK at if you want to be innovative. Poor listeners jump to conclusions; you can’t do that if you want to fully understand things, pick out connections, and so on.
  3. Innovative leaders understand empathy and motivation.
    This may seem an odd entry into a post about innovation, but hang in there. The ability to understand humans, their emotions, and their motivations is really important if you hope to understand what humans and consumers  want and why they want it. It’s not enough to empathize alone; you must also gain insight into the cause of the emotion or reaction. That, in turn, is what allows you to begin understanding what’s motivating employee and/or consumer desires and behavior.
  4. Innovative leaders are curious with a purpose.
    Innovative thinkers are curious, but they’re curious with a purpose. They like — and frankly, sometimes need — to understand why things are the way they are and how they might be even better. That’s what I meant about innovative thinkers being curious with a purpose. It’s not simply curiosity and questioning for the sake of questioning everything; it’s curiosity and questioning for the purpose of figuring out how to make things better.
  5. Innovative leaders are observant.
    Innovative thinkers are always taking things in. They observe, reflect, and observe some more. You’ll need to resist the temptation of thinking they’re space cadets. They’re not. They’re looking, listening, understanding, making connections, and so on. Their observations are often the catalysts for future innovations.
  6. Innovative leaders expose themselves to ideas.
    Innovative thinkers proactively expose themselves to ideas, and not just ideas with which they might agree. Remember, since they thrive on connecting the dots, they often surround themselves with a variety of sources of information and ideas, often including unorthodox ideas.
  7. Innovative leaders are humble.
    Again, this may seem a perplexing inclusion; but I’d opine that humility makes it easier to innovate because you’re able to more quickly and comfortably seek knowledge and information from others, which is a tacit acknowledgement that those others are more knowledgeable than you are about a subject or subjects.
  8. Innovative leaders try things.
    Innovating thinkers try things. It’s not enough to simply think about things; at some point, those ideas have to pushed from the abstract into reality. That’s why innovators will often test ideas, use pilot groups, float ideas by people, and so on. They learn from success and failures, both of which are helpful as they continue in their ongoing process of connecting and innovating.