Dictionary.com defines leadership as “the ability to lead” and “an act… of… guidance.” The formal definitions of leadership are nouns-meaning it is something that acts or is acted upon.
Overtime, I have begun to think of leadership as a verb. Instead of being acted upon, leadership is acting and performing a service for others. Of course, I went to college to study engineering, so grammar is not necessarily my strong suit!
Acting for Others
Regardless of grammar and proper English from high school, leadership requires acting on behalf of the best interest of others. Leaders in organizations are there to lead others. Leadership is a skill that demonstrates expected behaviors and rallies the team around a common purpose. Leaders support the goals of the team and the project objectives.
What’s important to observe about successful innovation leaders is that in acting for others they suppress their own egos and agendas. I remember working with a team leader who spent hours gathering the data and consensus of the team. Assigned to a “war room” to solve a complex problem, the team discussed and debated the scientific theories to address the issue. Yet after these lengthy meetings, our manager would next present a deliverable that we had never discussed. He was not acting for us; instead, it felt like he was acting against us.
Another reason I view leadership as a verb is that leaders are servants to their teams and other stakeholders. By performing service for the team, a leader demonstrates his or her strengths and confidence. None of us is too elite or has too grand of a title to lend a hand to those working for them. As we lift up the entire team, we lift ourselves and the organization.
Performing service does not mean going whole hog to build an entire housing community for the homeless all by yourself. Service as a leader means considering the needs of your team and your customers and then addressing those needs to the best of your ability.
For example, I fondly recall my first boss out of college. I had been tasked to run equations and an analysis of large amounts data from a pilot plant to correlate with ongoing operations. To understand the data and to convert it to useful information blog I was plotting dozens of graphs charts, and tables daily. (Read this blog on the difference between data and knowledge.)
Our group had only a shared printer per company guidelines. As a leader, my boss observed me walking down three hallways and around the corner several times per day just to collect my printed documents. He acted as a servant leader and presented me with my own printer! His service was not just a nice thing to do, it saved the company money to recover my wasted time walking back and forth to the shared printer. It also allowed other group members more access to the printer since my graphs and charts took a long time to produce.
Beyond acting for others and performing service, innovation leaders are responsible for strategic decisions and delivering results. Innovation leaders both drive and support strategy through market interactions. Working to design and develop new products, innovation leaders gain customer insights and translate this information into target product attributes for the design team.
A key skill of successful innovation leaders is the ability to examine themselves and to model behaviors that are expected for creative technology organizations. The fancy word for this trait is self-awareness. Self-awareness allows us to identify and capitalize on our strengths, and also helps us as leaders to identify and grow the strengths of our teammates.
Watch the recording of a recent Q&A webinar on innovation leadership. (Click here or type https://www.anymeeting.com/806-095-661/E959D78286463D into your browser.) Grow your innovation skills through a New Product Development Professional (NPDP) and Innovation Best Practices course (available online or self-study). Contact me for innovation coaching or to join a mastermind group of leaders who are passionate about innovation. A great reference for all things innovation is The Innovation ANSWER Book available at Amazon.
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. I am an experienced professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 280-8717 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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