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Top Five Skills of Innovative Leaders

Innovation is about skill as much as talent. While creativity is central to any innovation strategy, it takes more than just ideas to be an innovative leader. Here are the skills you need to not just lead your industry, but change it.


The question “Why?” is fundamental to all innovation, and innovative leaders tend to ask why in all sorts of ways. They question assumptions, challenge conventional wisdom, and ask for justification when told something won’t work. This should be tempered with a dash of humility; if somebody gives you a good answer, you should be able to accept it and pursue the questions it raises. But remember to always, always ask why.

Proactive, Not Reactive

Similarly, being innovative requires a proactive personality, somebody willing to jump feet first into an idea and see where it takes them. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look before you jump; instead, follow the example of Houdini. The man who invented escape artistry had layers of safeguards, carefully chosen designs, and expert tricks that removed risk factors and unnecessary dangers from his performances. His performances were, to say the least, innovative, but his approach to innovation was definitely proactive.

Risk Tolerance And Management

Innovation is, to some degree, about risk. Even incremental innovation can be risky in its own way. An innovative leader has a good sense both of what risks an organization can handle without too much trouble and how to keep those risks in check if a plan boomerangs. This can take many forms beyond just believing in a bold idea, like evaluating whether open innovation or crowdsourcing is the best technique for your particular risk scenario.

Team placing their hands on top of each other.

Do more than just lead your team.


Dig into any story of a lone inventor and, more often than not, you’ll find it’s more press spin than true history. Often great innovations originate with a team of gifted people working together and listening to each other. Leaders in innovation both model this behavior by being part of a team and use it to bring the best out of people and moderate the passions in any given team. A team that knows they’re all in it together will give you their best work.

Active Listening

A truism of innovation strategy is that people want to be heard and understood. Listening is fundamental to any form of leadership, but innovation requires not just hearing what people are saying, but engaging with it even, or especially, if it’s tough to hear. Active listening is also important when you need to make a decision to which some employees are passionately opposed. Knowing their side was fully explained and understood can take out some of the sting of having a less-than-popular idea implemented.


Creativity, contrary to popular belief, is not about disorganization. Indeed, keeping things tidy, in a metaphorical or literal sense, is often important to a creative endeavor, and leaders, in particular, need to keep the ship upright and the crew in their bunks for the most creativity to come out of an organization.

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