True Leadership

There is so much written about ‘Leadership’ today that a quick search on Amazon returns almost 180,000 titles!  Most of us have probably read some of the popular titles, for example ‘Leadership and the One Minute Manager’ by Ken Blanchard, ‘Start with the Why – How great Leaders Inspire Others to Take Action’ by Simon Sinek or my personal favourite ‘Leadership Plain and Simple’ by Steve Radcliffe.

With so much written, one could read veraciously and assume expertise in the subject.  One could also despair at the volume of opinions and advice available.  What is a novice manager or seasoned executive to do?  Let us narrow the task and begin by examining how true Leadership in the world of innovation is exhibited.

Organisations that promote ideas management in the workplace also provide formal recognition for highly committed senior leaders who actively build and support an innovation culture.  Annual competitions are held by such groups as ideasUK, Ideas America, Ideas Arabia and Zentrum Ideen Management to find the ideal candidates for their True Leadership awards.  What makes these leaders stand out?  What concrete actions do they take?  And what can we learn from their experiences?  Well one thing is for sure; these leaders don’t just walk the talk – they run with it!

Take a look at some recent recipients:

Richard Firmstone, Operational General Manager, RICOH in the UK, firmly believes that by encouraging employees to participate in the ideas scheme, great benefits will be had by both the individual and the organisation and has taken ownership for the program since the start. Richard ensures the scheme is part of the agenda at senior team meetings; attends the weekly review panel meetings; presents monthly awards including personal interaction with nominees and leads the Annual Awards Ceremony. He agrees the yearly targets of the scheme and uses the monthly progress report to continue to encourage and challenge both managers and employees to submit ideas. Despite a very busy calendar, he will personally contact teams if implementation is not on target and provides support where required. He has built targets for ideation and implementation into the annual review process for all employees.  His collective actions ensure there is a culture of continual improvement throughout the organisation.

Mohamed Saeed Al Shehhi from the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (SCAD), holds the position of Executive Director – Corporate Support Sector. He was instrumental in aligning the organization’s vision towards innovation and excellence. Based on his deep intellect and broad innovative thinking, he proposed a vision for SCAD of ‘Leadership & Innovation in Statistics’ which directly places innovation at the heart of the business strategy. Mohamed is not just a figure head but prefers to get actively involved and has developed a number of innovative schemes and initiatives, personally promoting these through well planned & meticulous execution of awareness campaigns. He has also changed the annual appraisal process to include a 2% bonus for innovation in all employee reviews, again embedding and strengthening a culture of innovation. He continually seeks ways to innovate.  He supports ideas from conception to implementation by providing encouragement, budget and manpower.  These actions ensure his vision of ‘Leadership and Innovation in Statistics’ becomes a reality and a way of working for all employees.

Maik Hopfeld, K+S KALI GmbH, Germany, works in a totally different world; in a mine, about 700 meters below the surface. Maik is engaging and continuously motivates his team to participate in the ideas management scheme. Within a special air-conditioned room underground, he developed a creative environment and atmosphere for his team to generate new ideas.  He treats every idea as important and actively supports their implementation.  Maik believes ‘we need the small ideas to help create the huge ideas’.  Adherence to his personal motto of ‘we need to be open to think of something new and we need to have the courage to make it happen’ has shown very impressive results.  Four out of five employees participate in the scheme.  And remarkably, 80% of all ideas are implemented with the average time to implement an idea being just 13 days!

Tom Blades is Corporate Vice President for Operations in Grote Industries, LLC. USA. He has been a constant advocate, the “backbone”, for the Grote employee suggestion system for many years.  When the company was forced to make stringent cuts during the 2008 recession, Tom successfully argued for the scheme to continue.  Additionally, he permitted the three times a year recognition lunch for employees who had submitted ideas that made a difference, to proceed as scheduled.   He has ensured that an introduction to the ideas program be included in the New Employee Orientation Program, inducting people from day one into the culture of submitting ideas. Tom is very ‘hands on’.  He has final approval of all idea implementations; final approval of all rewards paid and personally reviews all idea rejections.  Whilst this could be delegated, his personal involvement creates a true win-win atmosphere for employees to submit ideas plus the management team to find ways to implement them.

So, what characteristics do all of our winning leaders share?  And what does is really mean to embody true leadership in the field of innovation?

  1. Personal Involvement – whilst many tasks could be delegated, our leaders have ensured active participation in schemes, demonstrating personal enthusiasm for ideas and innovation.
  2. Sustained Commitment – every leader has demonstrated their support over a number of years. Innovation and supporting ideas schemes, is not a ‘fad’, but a commitment over time to really drive the culture within an organisation.
  3. Visibility – through regular communication to all employees and personally recognising employees’ successes, bonds are formed to promote organizational goals.
  4. Resource Commitment – whether ensuring continued funding in both good and lean cycles or building innovation into employee objectives or mandating time be allocated to the process, these leaders understand the return on investment from a good ideas management approach.
  5. Maximising Impact – embedding innovation within the strategy of the organisation and ensuring ideas that can make a difference get implemented will serve to further strengthen the organizations future.

How many of these common traits do you exhibit?  Are you a candidate for a Leader of the Year competition?  Would you win?  If so, congratulations to you; if not – maybe it’s time to start running!