While periods of significant change can be daunting to leaders and employees alike, leading innovation is crucial to remaining competitive and relevant in a changing market. But how do company leaders champion leadership and successful innovation while simultaneously managing the day-to-day responsibilities of a large-scale organization?
At the executive level, the CEO acts as the leader of leaders within the organization. One of the key indicators that you need to consider hiring additional leaders is when your work is outstripping your available time. While you're likely to want to hold onto all of your responsibilities, there is a point where this becomes unfeasible. As your business grows and expands, you'll need to hire additional talent to take on the company's core areas so your time can be spent on business strategy and planning.
Characteristics to look for in a leader and when forming a team
CEOs are often daunted by the idea of hiring managers who will take over core components of their businesses. The process of identifying the best talent for the role is a complex one, and many traits make up a competent manager. However, there are several character traits that you can focus on to improve your chances of picking a candidate that will grow into their new role and align with your core values.
Confidence can come easily when your organization succeeds, but the real difficulties can come when times get tough. It's then that your confidence as a leadership team will help carry the weight of the organization and the challenges the workforce faces. As CEO, you're the person whom your direct reports and employees look up to for inspiration and leadership, and you can't inspire confidence if you don't have it yourself. The same applies to senior and middle management, who lead the teams contributing to your business' success.
Vulnerability & gracefulness
Showing weakness and confessing that sometimes, things don't go as planned, is an intimidating thought for a business leader. Leadership IQ's "The State of Leadership Development in 2020" report highlighted how only 20% of 21,000+ employees agreed that their leaders would openly share the challenges they were dealing with. A similar number reported that their leadership teams rarely or never shared such challenges.
An ability to trust in your organization and share the challenges that you face is a mark of strong leaders. Studies have shown that communicating organizational challenges and successes instills greater employee motivation.
Self-awareness & courage
Self-awareness is a key factor in a strong leader; not everyone has this skill. Identifying your strengths and shortcomings make you a better leader, as you'll identify more easily with the same qualities in your team while effectively delegating tasks better suited to other direct reports or team members.
Equally, courage is an important trait that ensures your management teams can tackle problems and conflicts head-on instead of allowing them to linger. It's also a powerful motivator in helping you, and your leaders have confidence in strategic decision-making skills that will drive your organization forward.
Humble, team-oriented & transparent
A CEO's ability to show humility and transparency toward their team can directly impact their integration into the wider management team and leadership performance throughout an organization. As studies have shown, CEOs with humility more readily win over those fulfilling both senior and middle-management roles.
C-level executives who can sideline any existing ego are likelier to win the trust of their direct reports. Equally, the same qualities are important in your direct reports, who lead the workforce, and who will need the same trust from the employees working beneath them.
Proven execution abilities
CEOs with a track record of delivery can rely on references and experience to succeed in steering a new organization. These factors instill confidence in stakeholders when being brought on board and tasked with guiding business strategy. However, past experience can also be a limitation to innovation if there's no willingness to be flexible.
When hiring your senior leadership team, the same factors apply. However, as we will cover in more detail below, it's essential to consider more than work experience and prior successes. Cultural fit is important, as is hiring those who have different working practices and opinions than you.
Balance and prioritization
Few roles are as demanding and pressured as the CEO. Daily, you're spinning multiple plates, ensuring that your company remains profitable and upholds its reputation while guiding an entire workforce.
As a CEO, make time to think
As a CEO, proper time management and balancing responsibilities are crucial. One study that tracked CEO time expenditure found that self-development time and downtime were common factors among successful CEOS, allowing time to think, reflect on successes, and plan for future business strategy.
The importance of balancing a myriad of needs from your company
CEOs must simultaneously balance business strategy and execution, constantly adapting to large-scale changes in highly competitive industries; the Covid-19 pandemic is one example of how vast these responsibilities and changes can be. Despite being such a crucial balance between strategy and execution, research has suggested that just 8% of leaders can manage both simultaneously.
For any newly appointed CEO, getting to grips with the company's core branding and strategy is essential, as aligning with the existing senior management team and returning to basics with priorities. From here, the focus can be shifted to identifying means by which the core business offering can be expanded upon, then laying the groundwork to deliver sustainable growth.
Creating a balanced schedule
With so many demands on your time as a CEO, creating and adhering to a balanced schedule is one of the key factors in ensuring that all areas of your business and personal life are attended to.
One Harvard study found that successful CEOs work an average of almost ten hours each weekday, in addition to around 79% of weekends and 70% of vacation days. This equated to an average working week of about 62.5 hours, approximately 1.5x that of most full-time employees.
However, the same CEOs who took part in the study dedicated around 25% of their capacity to personal time and vacation.
Ways to create more time in your day
CEOs devote an enormous amount of time to starting and growing a business, a problem that only extends as the company grows and expands. You should always look for ways to create more time in your day, typically by streamlining existing ways of working to make them more efficient.
Create criteria/agendas for meetings to stay efficient
Meetings can quickly run over the allotted time when not properly planned for, and we've already established that time is a valuable commodity for a CEO. That's why every meeting should have an agenda; agendas have been shown to influence participants' opinion of whether a meeting was "good" or "bad," impacting employee morale, follow-up action planning, and overall performance.
Consider adopting new technologies to create space in your calendar
New technologies and time-management processes can help you move in the right direction to effectively make more time within your day.
Time blocking has been found to improve productivity and focus, which can be crucial when your time is already stretched in multiple directions. The principle is simple: before the day - or week - begins, your calendar has already been segmented, or "blocked," into specific time intervals that specify what you'll be working on, whether that's meetings or strategic planning.
It's a strategy already used by high performers, including Bill Gates and Cal Newport. In one study, participants under time pressure faced fewer distractions while engaged in a high-focus activity. It's a more effective means for completing key tasks rather than trying to fit them in during downtime and being interrupted by the following "urgent" task that requires your attention.
Software can help, too. Qumu is an enterprise video platform that allows you to prerecord video presentations ahead of time. When you have key information to deliver to the organization but can't spare the time to attend a meeting, you can still participate without being present by utilizing a prerecorded video.
How to recognize innovation and find innovative new ideas
Markets are constantly changing, and businesses must innovate to keep up with them. To shun innovation is to fall behind the market, be beaten by competitors, or lose your target customers or clients in droves. As technology continues to disrupt every industry, innovation is mandatory rather than simply being a competitive advantage. Innovative companies not only capture the attention of consumers when they succeed, but they also attract top talent.
Diversify your network; find those who don't think like you for new ideas
As organizations grow, CEOs grow with them, as do the senior management team, which often needs to be expanded. In the beginning stages of a startup, a CEO's focus will primarily be centered on customers, products, and services. But once an organization begins to grow at a rapid pace, it'll need the support of more senior managers so that their focus can shift toward growing the organization and nurturing its desired culture.
One of the critical tasks involved in this process is determining the senior leadership team. Since business operations can rapidly become too large for a single person to manage, CEOs need to be able to trust in others' competence to grow and address other key areas of the business. However, they also need to be able to identify those who will bring the greatest chance of innovation.
Diversity with a focus on the mindsets within your circle
Studies have proven that we are hardwired to seek out relationships with people who share our opinions and interests. Moreover, the research determined that people do not influence each other's perceptions over time; we are attracted to friendships and working relationships with people who provide little conflict and challenge.
In the context of a romantic relationship, this can have obvious benefits, reducing the chance of conflict and general disagreements. However, surrounding yourself with people who share the same thought patterns and opinions in a business environment can stifle innovation.
Instead, you should seek to bring people on board with different experiences, opinions, and ways of working. This will ensure that you aren't working with "Yes" men or women who will blindly agree without challenging the status quo and trying to think up more innovative approaches to driving your business forward.
Bring in those who are experts in fields that you aren't
Some leaders want to create a culture in which every employee can be an innovator, but it's essential to consider that many people are not wired that way or have no desire to be. Instead, you need to identify the people within - or outside your organization with varying experience and expertise, particularly in areas unfamiliar to you.
Some CEOs may try to take on everything themselves, shunning the opportunity to accept help from others because they believe that they can manage everything. However, experts could make the difference between success and failure due to several factors:
They're more efficient at getting things done because they've done them before and understand what's required to succeed.
They can provide a fresh perspective that others are likely to miss.
They're more likely to have niche, specialized knowledge of specific industries or even compliance and regulations unfamiliar to you.
They can introduce you to other key contacts through their established network, which could benefit you further in the future.
Global perspectives offer an invaluable perspective
One previous study suggests that global experience and perspectives among CEOS are rare; only around 20% of newly appointed CEOs originated from a country other than where their company was based. What's more, less than 50% had international experience.
CEOs with global experience and perspectives offer a fresh take on numerous areas of business, from strategy and innovation to business culture development. Given their experiences, they are also more likely to lead a culture of diversity that trickles down into the workforce and broader hiring practices. Innovative leadership can allow these perspectives to flourish.
Diversity is also important throughout the workforce, now more than ever, but it is not simply about checking a box in good hiring practices. Diverse teams can afford greater innovation to a workforce, offering nonlinear thinking and higher revenue. According to research from Deloitte, organizations that focus on inclusivity and diversity are six times more innovative and twice as likely to hit financial targets than competitors with less diversity. Additionally, when one person has ethnic or other traits in common with a customer, it's said that the entire team can better understand that customer and is a great deal more likely to experience a positive interaction that can lead to conversions.
Creativity is rare
Competition for top talent is growing ever-fiercer, particularly in the areas of tech, where companies are facing enormous competition to design responsive applications and web services. This is made harder still by the appeal of vast corporations like Apple and Google, which promise difficult-to-beat prospects and employee benefits.
There are several ways that you can nurture creative work and talent and try to avoid the unfortunate attrition rates that are often associated with these roles:
Include professional development pathways specifically tailored for creative-type roles, such as software subscriptions, professional training budgets, and opportunities to attend industry events.
Consider flexible working arrangements wherever possible for your workforce, or at least for these roles. Those working in creative roles often find that motivation and creativity ebb and flow depending on several factors, which at a basic level, can include the time of day or location.
Don't treat contractors better than employees. A common trap many organizations can fall into when growing, and replacing contractors or freelance creatives with full-time staff, is offering worse working conditions, remuneration, or perks to their newly appointed, full-time employee.
Create space for innovative thinking
Organizations that seek to lead from the stop and stifle employee involvement in decision-making have been shown to suffer from productivity loss and higher levels of staff attrition. As research-backed examples will highlight, CEOs should encourage contributions from their workforce and promote a culture of trust to lead innovation.
Open up the field and give employees space to be themselves without intimidation
Micromanagement can kill productivity, and employees need the space to innovate within their own roles and make decisions without having to check in with senior management constantly. Research also supports that when employee involvement, either collectively or individually, is nurtured, their willingness and success in offering innovative ideas increases.
Autonomy and trust within organizations have also been shown to increase employee productivity, which drives business output and increases profit margins. It's also a crucial factor in employee retention, ensuring that you can hold onto your best talent and avoid increased spend in replacing employees who leave.
Failure is a crucial part of the innovation process
Failing fast and failing early are some of the principles followed by organizations that have adopted highly successful Agile methodologies. Something may start as a bad idea, but giving it the time to evolve into an innovative, new idea allows for the innovation process to work. By recognizing non-starter ideas early, you can avoid sinking significant investment into development or other efforts only to find that they are not feasible.
Allowing for early failure also means that your organization and employees will learn quickly from their mistakes. Since failure is an essential prerequisite for success, your organization must be able to fail quickly in exploring innovative solutions and processes, driving a culture of continuous change and improvement.
When it comes to leadership, innovation always has to be in mind to keep your organization ahead of change. Finding the right leaders to bring on is an essential piece to creating a culture that can foster this innovative mindset. At Vation Ventures, innovation is at the core of our services, and our leadership brings invaluable insight and expertise to our clients. Contact us today to begin your organization's innovation journey.
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