In today’s dynamic business environment, the ability to lead innovation is becoming critical to the success of organizations. But what makes leaders successful in encouraging and enabling innovation? Our Lead Instructor at ABC Silicon Valley, Laszlo Gyorffy, brings deep insights into the roles that successful leaders play to inspire and enable innovation within their teams.


As a leader, you can not be everywhere, but your expectations should be. Leaders who proactively manage a culture of innovation do so by playing multiple roles during their daily interactions. They leverage their one-on-one conversations and group gatherings to align everyone with their expectations for how people should be thinking and acting with regard to innovation. If done well, these roles shape a performance improvement environment where ideas and collaboration flourish and transformative concepts can take root.


Playing the role of an effective innovation leader is not a passive endeavor; it demands active engagement, the ability to read the room and switch roles to meet the needs of the moment, and the consistent reinforcement of expectations. A few of the most impactful roles include:


Being an Advocate

As an advocate for innovation, your words and deeds should consistently emphasize the importance of fresh thinking and creative problem-solving. You can promote innovation by:

  • Encouraging participation: Create opportunities for employees to engage in innovation initiatives, such as brainstorming sessions, hackathons, or innovation competitions. ”You have some good ideas, I think you should develop a pitch for your new concept and participate in next month’s Spark Tank?
  • Not settling for mediocrity: Encourage continuous improvement and strive for breakthrough innovations, pushing boundaries and seeking exponential gains. “Before you jump into the next project, I would like you to explore the market potential of the technology that was just developed.
  • Providing resources: Equip teams with the necessary tools, training, and support to pursue innovative ideas. “I worked with finance to secure additional budget so we can purchase the software needed to accelerate our operational improvement initiative.
  • Highlighting successes: Share instances where innovation has led to positive outcomes, recognizing the contributions of those involved. “Let me kick off today’s meeting by thanking Kathy Hill for the extra effort she put in last week to make sure we got the MVP done by Friday. We should begin realizing returns as soon as Q2.


Woman taking notes in front of the laptop.


Being a Mentor

Your leadership extends beyond mere encouragement; you must actively mentor and empower our teams to embrace innovation. This involves:

  • Providing constructive feedback: Offer guidance on refining ideas, identifying potential roadblocks, and exploring avenues for implementation. “I think you are on to something. Please create a CO-STAR value proposition for the idea and then let’s discuss it further.
  • Encouraging skill development: Facilitate access to training and workshops that enhance innovation-related skills, such as creative thinking, problem-solving, and design thinking. “Take the free Personal Innovation Fitness Survey to get a snapshot of your capabilities and then let’s find time for you to attend the training. We are looking for ways to increase intrapreneurial skills across the region so we can have a bigger impact.
  • Promoting ownership: Empower individuals to take ownership of their ideas, providing them with the autonomy and resources to bring their visions to life. “Your ideas for how to bring our partners together to pursue this opportunity is why I think you should take the lead on this project.


Being a Networker

Innovation rarely thrives in isolation. As leaders, we can foster a collaborative environment by:

  • Connecting innovators: Introduce individuals with complementary skills and expertise, facilitating cross-functional collaboration and knowledge sharing. “Kevin is the Innovation Catalyst for our group, he should be able to help you develop and refine your pitch.
  • Bridging internal and external networks: Encourage partnerships with external stakeholders, such as industry experts, academia, or potential customers, to gain fresh perspectives and insights. “I encourage you to share your value proposition with Dr. Marino, he is an expert in the field and their university would be a great partner for our program. I will send an email introducing the two of you.
  • Promoting knowledge sharing: Create platforms for employees to share their experiences and learnings from innovation projects, fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement. “You are right, both you and Sandy have submitted complementary ideas. Please follow up with her. Discovering potential collaborators is one of the real advantages of running crowdsourcing campaigns.


A team of five people discussing ideas in a meeting room.


Being a Barrier Buster

Innovation often encounters obstacles, and it is our responsibility as leaders to remove these hurdles and encourage ideation and support implementation. We can do this by:

  • Addressing concerns promptly: Acknowledge and address any concerns or roadblocks that hinder innovation, ensuring that resources and support are readily available. “I am not sure why your brainstorming session was postponed again. It is a priority. I will look into the situation and work with Tammy to get it rescheduled by Thursday at the latest.
  • Promoting a risk-tolerant culture: Encourage employees to experiment with new ideas, even if there is a possibility of failure. “I agree, it is a stretch, however, your idea could produce a 10x increase in throughput. Create a plan that validates the assumptions we discussed with a series of quick and inexpensive trials. Then we can present the concept and next steps to the Innovation Committee.
  • Celebrating learning opportunities: Recognize that failures are valuable learning experiences that can inform future innovation efforts. “I know the test results were disappointing, but your prototypes opened the door to a new method for miniaturizing devices that will certainly have applicability in future products.


Being a Role Model

Our actions speak louder than words. To truly foster a culture of innovation, we must lead by example:

  • Demonstrate innovation in our own work: Incorporate innovative approaches into our own tasks and responsibilities, showcasing the value of creativity and problem-solving. “I would like to share a draft CO-STAR I wrote for the new renewable energy program I am considering. I welcome your input.
  • Actively participate in innovation initiatives: Engage in brainstorming sessions, hackathons, or other innovation events, signaling the importance of these activities. “Of course, I will attend the Rapid Idea Improvement Session next week. I am excited to hear what Scott is working on and I am happy to share my perspective.
  • Continuously seek out new ideas: Dedicate time to research, explore emerging trends, and seek inspiration from sources beyond our immediate network. “I would like you to join me at the Artificial Intelligence conference in May. It will be an excellent learning experience for both of us and you can help me present our findings to the Digital Solutions group.
  • Avoid overusing “I”: Foster a sense of shared ownership and responsibility by emphasizing “we” and “teamwork”. “Great question. My definition of innovation is people collaborating to create value through the implementation of new ideas. This is why inventing a new process to meet these new customer requirements is something we will all need to work on together.


A woman presenting to the other members of the group.


Great ideas come from great expectations

As a leader, you set the tone for innovation. Through your words and actions, you clarify what is expected. By embracing your role as an advocate, mentor, networker, barrier buster, and role model, you can empower your teams, departments, and agencies to unleash their ingenuity and transform ideas into reality. The consistent execution of these roles creates a win-win scenario. You can develop a sustainable resource of enthusiastic employees committed to inventing better, faster, and cheaper ways to achieve our organizational goals. In addition, you gain significant personal and professional benefits for producing these results, such as increased job satisfaction, enhanced reputation, career advancement, and a greater sense of accomplishment.



Published On: April 14th, 2024 / Categories: Career Development, Innovation, News / Tags: , , , /