Developing future young leaders for innovation not for titles

By Sello Helepi

All leaders must be innovation leaders. Every leader must develop a leadership style that encourages people to find solutions, come up with cutting edge new ideas and solve problems. The development and growth of our leaders must quickly start focusing on leading innovation and change for our economy, country and continent to stay competitive.


Our leaders today are preoccupied with the title of leadership and the perks it brings than to be concerned with enabling and encouraging innovation in their organisations. Every leader must influence their teams to innovate and to find cheaper, better and faster ways to do things. Innovation leadership is therefore not for those with an ego or complex problem who desire to be worshipped or idolised. It is for those who are humble enough to admit that they desperately need the team and who are able to influence others to surprise the leader with their genius.


Innovation leaders close their doors to blamers, complainers and whiners and unconditionally open their door to those who have failed, having discovered how not to do things and those who are excited about the new risks being undertaken.


Your leadership style must encourage innovative behaviour from your team and promote risk taking to explore cheaper, better, faster ways for your business, organisation or church. The shift is moving to the leader’s behaviour and influence towards those who are being led. Innovation leaders spend time among the team, listening, inviting new and crazy ideas, and taking the time to communicate, give and accept feedback.

These are the critical skills which our future young leaders need to start embracing and developing today. Gone are the days when leaders occupied a big corner office with a view of the highway or the sea. Leaders of innovation are getting the grease under their nails as they spend time with their teams. They are getting rid of the tie and suit, and donning the dirty overalls and hard hats to listen for cheaper, better, faster ways of doing things among their people at all levels, even at the shop floor.

There are millions of our people who go to the grave with wonderful ideas, cutting edge solutions and life-changing solutions each year purely because the leader never gave them an ear, or they were not given space to bring forth their new ideas, solutions and thinking. If only somebody had listened to them, sometimes even once, we would not still be sitting with so many unsolved problems in society today. Innovation is not for the elite.

It is for all. We need a new cadre of leaders who will trust their teams, who will promote and encourage innovation at all levels of the organisation, in their teams and in society without fear of losing their grip on power. John C. Maxwell says, everything rises and falls on leadership. My assertion here therefore is that, leadership is the reason we are where we are today, whether we like it or not, and it is leadership that will get us out of here to where we ought to be – among the first in the best of nations.


As a leader, never allow anyone in your sphere of influence, in your team to believe that their idea is not worth listening to or at least trying it out albeit in a simulated, scenario testing environment. Never dismiss ideas as silly, they might just be what you need to stay ahead. Sometimes as a leader you need to ask the talkative members in your team to shush for a change and listen to the quite member in the team. You need to take the ball and pass it to the passive member tactically and give them a platform to share their views, ideas and solutions. But you must also create a safe space and a circle of trust for people not to be afraid to be wrong. Your leadership style is important to achieve that. Throughout my career I have developed one-on-one conversations with every single member in my team twice a year.


I always asked four questions of my team members during these conversations:

What is the one thing, in your view, we are good at as a team?
If you were the leader what are the two things you would do differently immediately to achieve our team goals in a cheaper, better, faster way?
What is the one thing you would like to change about my leadership to enable you to continuously achieve superior results and performance?
Do you feel trusted and supported by the leader (which was me in this case) to do your very best for the team?


After this discussion I would draw up a personal improvement plan for myself as the leader and during the next session start with this invitation for feedback, how am I doing on the commitments I made to enable you to be your best as your leader?


These conversations were most empowering for me as a leader and certainly for my teams as well.




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