Are you leading for Change or for Innovation?


Earlier this year one of our favourite people on the planet, BrenéBrown, spoke with leadership expert Dr. Linda Hill about Leading with Purpose in the Digital Age.

What was most interesting to us about the interview was the distinction that Dr. Hill made between Leading for Change versus Leading for Innovation.

As Linda articulated beautifully, what it takes for ‘Leading for Change’ is knowing where you are taking people. To do this well, you must have the traditional things we associate with leadership: a vision, and the ability to create followership to that vision. The skills you’re leaning into as a leader are those which meet a human need for certainty: listening, connecting and high-quality communication.

‘Leading for Innovation’ is quite different. To do this well you have to navigate WITHOUT knowing where you are going.  Beyond a high-level sense of purpose, what you as a leader are doing, and helping your team to do, is to let go into the uncertainty.

Our experience of supporting leaders and teams to do this well is that the core skill here is what we call high-quality teaming. This is because innovation comes from a deep appreciation of and skill around leveraging diversity, being able to foster a culture of iterative learning and experimentation and stepping into your role as ‘chief facilitator’, and out of the role of ‘provider of the big answers’.

As you think about your own organisation and journey through COVID-19, perhaps you can see that you’ve learned to navigate with a higher degree of uncertainty and ambiguity than you did pre-pandemic.

You might ask yourself, ‘what have we already started doing that supports a greater culture of innovation, and how can we build on this?’

As we think about our work at Leadership Space, the reality is that in most cases we’re supporting organisations and leaders to both Lead for Change, and Lead for Innovation.

For Change our experience is that it’s critical that your strategic planning really hits the mark. For us that means a simple, concise, and accessible Theory of Change narrative, backed up by a ‘Strategy on a page’ that was built using co-design principles, so that you’ve driven followership and leadership with both the Board and staff through the process.

We find that to create an enabling and effective environment for Innovation, it’s important to move through a semi-structured series of Team Coaching sessions for the Top Team. Critical components of these sessions include elements like team agreement on who its’ key stakeholders are and what they need; defining the team’s purpose, goals and most critical conversations; and deciding how the behaviours and rhythms of working together will be achieved.

Each team will have different strengths and areas to focus on but the common theme remains – the dramatic uplift in the capacity to innovate, generated by quality time working ‘on the team’.

This journey of leadership development and capacity building is one that our client and colleague, @SuzieRiddell, CEO of #SocialVenturesAustralia, is very much committed to. We recently spoke to Suzie about how she thinks about this work.

We would love to hear what your experience is of Change versus Innovation!

To hear Suzie Riddell’s reflections on leadership development, check out her interview.

To explore Dr Linda Hill’s complete thoughts on Leading with Purpose in the Digital Age, listen to the podcast.

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