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Three practical ways leaders can ignite a passion for change and innovation

By 25th January 2022May 16th, 2022Blog, Making change happen
Hands Holding Sparkler | Axiom Communications

Don’t you just love those leadership papers that paint a beautiful picture of how leadership should be? You find yourself nodding in agreement but when it comes to practical implementation, said paper comes up short.

Don’t get me wrong, those insights play a critical role. They can paint a compelling picture of what leadership and the workplace ought to look like. When coupled with undisputable stats like: ‘Half the Fortune 500 companies from 2006 no longer exist’ – they even inspire us to want to reach the leadership ideal painted in that picture. But at Axiom we know that theoretical insights aren’t enough for time-poor leaders, already exhausted by today’s fire fight. What matters to those real leaders is how they can get there.

After more than 25 years working with world class businesses, the one thing we know for sure at Axiom is that leaders want to lead brilliantly. Yet the constant demands on their time create a conflict between the urgent and the important, and the accelerating pace of change, particularly over the last 20 months – sparked by Coronavirus and fuelled by digital.

Time-poor and exhausted leaders know that igniting a passion for change and innovation matters. They understand they hold the torch that lights the path towards it, but it’s not as simple as flicking a switch. What they want to know is how to create the conditions to do more of it.

And that actionable delivery – bridging between the theoretical and the practical to share what works in the ‘real world’ is Axiom’s speciality. We focus on practical delivery because, as experienced practitioners ourselves, we know that’s what matters most to leaders

In recognition of that and having scoured for and sifted through a glut of ‘thought leadership’ papers about the need for organisation’s to consistently innovate in these times of accelerating change, here you’ll find three practical ways you can enhance your leadership capabilities to fan the flames of change for the better.

1. Push from groupthink to re-think

We live in a world where solving complex problems is critical to innovation. No leader, or any one person today, holds all the answers. ‘Two heads are better than one’ is a proverb for a reason.

Innovation thrives when people who think differently come together and challenge the status quo. While there’s general acceptance that diverse teams bring strength and resilience, there’s much less recognition that cognitive diversity is essential in that mix. Ultimately, it’s neurological difference that diversifies a team’s thinking, working style and perspectives, so let’s make space for the introverts and less outspoken team members to be heard. When we do, we get their pixie dust too – and it’s always worth hearing.

As a leader, the first practical thing you can do to ignite innovation is to challenge your own ways of thinking and evolve your team’s composition.

That starts by being aware of your own style and then learning to spot and embrace the different perspectives and preferences of others. It means actively identifying, recruiting, enabling (more of this in a minute) and promoting the cognitively diverse.

2. From having difference to behaving differently

Convening a neurologically diverse team is a great first step but thereafter it’s a leader’s own behaviour that determines whether that team’s potential is realised.

The only way to get a different outcome is to start asking a different question – or indeed any question.

The second practical thing you can do as a leader to inspire change and ignite innovation is to shift your behaviour to signal you are no longer the one your team comes to for all the answers. Instead, you need to show yourself to be a curious and continuous learner. One who can skillfully convene the right people but, most critically, can invite and ask questions that challenge the status quo, drive change and enhance innovation.

We’d liken it to transitioning from being a star soloist in an orchestra to becoming a conductor. The conductor’s success is purely performance based but their lone voice isn’t heard. It is, however, expressed and amplified through the music created by the contributions of many. A conductor, convenes musicians, sets the direction and the tone, but, most importantly, they listen and hold the space for each instrument to make its contribution and be heard.

Having convened the right talent, leaders need to behave differently – enhancing their questioning and listening capabilities, signaling they are curious, that they don’t hold all the answers and are open to learning new things. This subtle shift can level hierarchies to help each team member re-evaluate what is needed and wanted of them.

These days, it really is okay for leaders to acknowledge that they aren’t super-human ‘answer machines’ – the Covid era has accelerated the acceptance of vulnerability. Your team will be delighted to step up, to be genuinely listened to, and thrilled that their ideas can make a difference.

3. From working ways to ways that work

Overcoming the logistics of collective problem solving though is no mean feat. Leaders must convene, connect and communicate with their people by creating a physical and virtual working environment that gets the best from cognitively diverse and frequently dispersed teams. Yet all too often our established and inflexible ways of working don’t enable that.

How many times have you left a meeting frustrated because the same usual suspects have contributed or, despite your invitation for questions, nobody has asked a thing?

It stands to reason that those who think differently will also want to contribute in different ways. If a leader’s only avenue to elicit contributions is immediate and / or public, it’s unlikely to entice reflectors or introverts to speak up. Yet securing those voices is mission critical. All the ‘traditionally accepted’ forms of diversity in the world won’t lead to more innovation if those people don’t contribute.

There is plenty leaders can do to build psychologically safe environments that will encourage real-time and more public contributions. But the third practical thing you can immediately do to ignite a passion for change and more innovation is to evolve your existing ways of working.

Collaborative, virtual event technology and effective facilitation techniques can help enormously. Everyone’s input is equal when it comes in via a virtual brainstorm – and you can use the ‘like’ facility to help prioritise the democratically crowdsourced input.

And rather than invite immediate questions and discussion, try instead inviting everyone to go on mute or take a break to allow some dedicated thinking time to reflect on what they’ve heard. Then ask them to come back to you be it an hour / day / week / month later to discuss any further builds, reflections or concerns – in whatever format they feel best helps them express their thinking, to kick the tyres of the initial insights. It may not be faster, but in diverse teams the breadth of contributions you receive will be broader and therefore likely to be better.

There’s no single action leaders can take to ignite a passion for change and unlock innovation. It’s more a series of adjustments in how they think and behave to create psychologically safe environments and new ways of working that secure high performance in others. Others who, for more innovative results, won’t necessarily look, sound, think or act like them.

Axiom’s new programme ‘How to create an inclusive ‘Speak Up’ culture by harnessing Psychological Safety‘ gifts leaders the time, space and practical means to engage, encourage and enable different thinking, behaviours and ways of working for igniting more innovation. Our virtual event and professional facilitation services can also help you achieve the results you want faster than you ever thought possible.

To find out more give us call on +44 (0)33 3088 3088 or email info@axiomcommunications.com