The Essential Qualities of an Innovation Leader

The Role of an Innovation Leader

“Our ideas come from the same people all the time. Others are just waiting for someone else to discover the next big idea.”

“We are spinning your wheels faster and harder, but we are still not making any progress.”

Do these comments sound familiar? Why some organizations seem to be able to push the boundaries of what is possible today in search of a better future and some are not? It is not enough to just create new ideas you need someone to take charge and make them become reality. This is a job for an innovation leader. As innovation leader you don’t need to be the most creative person in the organization, nor to be the most innovative person in the organization. There are far more important qualities needed to be a good innovation leader.

The Essential Qualities of an Innovation Leader

Curiosity to learn

An innovation leader need to have natural curiousity to discover and learn new things. You need to always be interested in surprises because surprises indicate that something that you used to believe in,  is perhaps not true. These discoveries are main cause innovations, as we seek to overturn facts that are not really facts, but merely mistaken assumptions.

Question asker

You should have a habit of asking questions, as it is a form of interaction that can provoke learning. Question asked the right way at the right time, can open the door in a person’s mind. Enabling them to view issues differently and see things that they have never seen or understood before. The capacity to frame and ask great questions is one of the most important skills that leaders can develop.

Effective Manager

Organization has been successfully been managed to the current level of success and your job is to create new management skills that lead into innovations. The goal is to transform the organization to be more adaptive to external changes and to be more significant player in the current and the future markets. You need to develop an innovation management system for your organisation and at the same time put your efforts into specific innovation projects. You need to balance the short term and long-term perspective, as well as risk and reward, and the differences related to incremental and breakthrough thinking.

Facilitator and coach

As an innovation leader you spend a lot of time as a facilitator as your role is to help individuals and teams to find the best solutions to complex problems. You push and pull. You expect a great thing to happen and demand that individual and teams raise their performance to meet those expectations. When pushing isn’t going to help, you patiently encourage and inspire people to search for the right questions and solutions. However the most important skill is empathy, the capacity to understand what others are feeling and thinking and engage them the right way. The skill to listen effectively, and to set aside one’s own judgment in order to understand what’s going on in the minds of others. This is important because most of the innovation is driven by the need to understand exactly what others are feeling, whether they are colleagues, customers or partners. Enthusiasm is also important when you need to convey a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the work and accomplishments achieved throughout the organization.

Creative Designer

Your job is to find elegant solutions to complex problems. Observations and insights transformed into useful concepts and objects. Think through options and possibilities and design the best solution and make it real. This is innovating.

It’s all about business

Innovation management is not a separated identity within the organization. Innovation is not located in the main office or the job of the top management. I am not even sure there is just a thing as innovation that can be managed. At the end of the day, you are managing business by making it more flexible and adaptive to changes. The results of your work are business results. You need to keep your door open and be highly visible throughout the organization. People need to feel comfortable when approaching you to share their ideas and seek guidance. Because so much of what you need to accomplish is not a matter of what you can do on your own, but rather what others will contribute through their own participation.


Markus Halonen
COO & Co-Founder
Keto Software


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