Competing Through People  | May 2013 Edition
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MAC 2011The Challenge of Leading Innovation  


There is an interesting paradox when it comes to leading innovation, especially when it comes to leading teams that are charged with innovation:  We can  describe what innovation  looks like but innovation project champions and leaders struggle with leading effective project teams.   The competency of Innovation Leadership is a hallmark of top performance but is a rare skill of leaders worldwide.


Fortunately, recent research has also shown that there are basic things that leaders can do to create the climate in teams so that innovation is effective, efficient and fast to market.  Innovation leadership is not about being personally creative but  facilitating the creative process and bringing the creative ideas of others to market.  Here are some of key leadership capabilities that can help drive innovation.


Empowering Leadership.  An empowering leader explains the what, why and when of an innovation challenge and then gets out of the way.  The team should be involved in setting innovation goals and objectives but must be allowed to finish and be responsible for their own work.  Once the project guardrails are set, the leader should check in with the team to make sure that a high level of energy is maintained.


Leadership Trust.  An effective innovation leader is an advocate for the team and is consistent in communications and actions.  They take responsibility when things go wrong.  In addition, they address team issues quickly and effectively.


Team Ability.  The range of capabilities on a team is directly related to speed to market.  An innovation leader pays attention to the mix of talent, selects a diverse team and fights to keep the team together until the project is complete.  Team cohesiveness comes from spending time together with a diverse set of people communicating effectively.


Team Purpose .  Nothing glues a team together like a shared purpose and clear goals.  Having challenging, non-ambiguous goals for development teams is  related to speed and effective outcomes.


Team Connections.  How an innovation team handles the information exchange outside of the team is directly related to efficiency, effectiveness and speed.  Innovation leaders should assure that each member of the team has direct, frequent, two-way connections to key stakeholders, especially customers.



"It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare."

Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Accelerating Leadership Transitions
Assuring Success in a New Leadership Role


Transitions: "break points that thrust one from a state of certainty to uncertainty; from knowing to not knowing; from the familiar to the unfamiliar"

John Van Maanen

Organization Careers: Some New Perspectives


"The actions you take during the first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail."

Michael Watkins

The First 90 Days


Ensuring a successful leadership transition starts before the public announcement of the new job and continues into the first few months in a new role. The honeymoon period is often shorter than you think. The critical path to success is rapidly identifying what is most critical in the short term, while simultaneously laying the foundation for long-term success.


Research has shown that 4 out of 10 leaders fail in the first 18 months in a new position. The causes of many of these derailments can be traced back to the first 90 days and are often due to:

  • Not coming up the learning curve fast enough
  • Failure to build an effective team
  • Failure to establish clear expectations with a new boss
  • Failure to build positive relationships with peers
  • Not following through and achieving results

How do you beat the odds and vaccinate yourself against the transition challenges? I have found success in my work with new leaders by building an overall plan for success in the new role.


The success-planning process works best if it starts a few weeks before the new leader arrives on site or, in the case of an internal move, before the official start date. The overall plan should be built from components that address the common causes of derailment including:

  1. A Learning Plan - Identify and build the leadership competencies that are critical for success in the new role
  2. A Leadership Plan - Rapidly assess and build the new team
  3. A Relationship Plan - Establish a positive working relationships with your boss and other key stakeholders
  4. A Business Plan - Achieve results with short- and long-term action plans
  5. A Success Plan - Create an overall action plan of S.M.A.R.T. Goals for the first 30, 60 and 90 days.

Coming Attractions 


I have several speaking engagments on the calendar this month up.  Hope to see your there.


Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders 

Friday, May 17

Indiana County Area SHRM, Indiana PA


Living Your Mission Vision and Values

Strategic HR Management Workshop

Wednesday, May 29 

Pittsburgh HR Association


I also just presented a workshop entitled:  Putting Strategy Before People at the Virginia State HR Conference held at The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA.  A great, well run conference at a fantastic location.  The VA State Conference will return to The Homnestead nest year.  I would highly recommend both the conference and the location.

What Are You Up To?


Here is a quick summary of a few of our recent projects.


Challenge:  The top executive team of a large manufacturer had a new chief executive, new team members and faced some key strategic challenges.  The Team wanted to make sure that they were effective and focused.
What We Did: We worked with the leadership team to identify the mission critical team and leadership competencies. We then assessed the team's performance on the competencies and worked with the team to create a team development plan, linked to the region's strategy.  We are now assessing the individual leaders' competencies and will integrate their individual development plans with the team effectiveness plan.
Challenge:  A large regional non-profit wanted to develop a strategic plan that sustained their recent growth and solidified thier future.  They wanted a planning process that drove a high level of engagement with the Board and Staff compared to the planing they had done in the past.
What We Did:  Designed and facilitated a strategic planning process that was engaging and efficient in the use of all the stakeholder's time but that also built accountability and commitment.
In This Edition
The Challenge of Innovation Leadership
Coming Attractions
Quick Links

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