I have spent the past seven years working to lead an organization into a new culture of innovation. Saying it has, at times, been a struggle is tantamount to saying that Everest is a bit steep. Whenever I find challenges, I always look inward as much as at the environment to find any potential challenges to success or meeting my goals. As a result, I have spent much of those seven years learning to hone my management and leadership style into one that creates, or if not ‘creates’ then at least ‘allows for’ or ‘encourages’ an environment where Innovation will flourish. I have come to understand that the primary component in this effort is the cultivating and managing of innovative people. Unless you intend to be a one-person show (which I seriously discourage as it will ultimately be unsuccessful in an organization/team setting and just plain leave you exhausted) you must surround yourself with other personalities, minds and skill sets that will hopefully meld into a force that creates and drives Innovation.
During my years of honing, I have discovered that all too often it is not being able to find these innovative minds, or not being an organization culture that does not allow them to create, explore and innovate that is the difficulty. The challenge comes in reigning these necessarily strong, independent and creative minds into a productive and strategic focus. If not handled careful, a manager/leader can frustrate their innovative thinkers into giving up, becoming a destructive rather than productive force, or ultimately leaving your organization all together! This management/leadership dance is a delicate and intricate one that I have never found to play out the same way twice. It is simply a dance you learn through experience that allows you, hopefully, to manage your creative people using a precarious balance of the specific elements/factors of their situation. This makes crafting a management formula or disseminating my hard-won experience into translatable models for fellow Library managers/leaders extremely difficult.
I recently discovered an excellent article that provides some fascinating insights into managing those Innovative spirits among us!!
When facing the challenge of unleashing organizational innovation, many leaders fail. Some attempt to help their teams flourish by granting almost unlimited freedoms, only to discover that they have created chaos, not high performance. Others try to force their employees’ creativity through prescribed programs and activities, which usually yields humdrum results at best.
After studying proven masters at fostering organizational innovation for over ten years, we have identified the heart of the difficulty. At the core of leading innovation lies a fundamental tension, or paradox, inherent in the leader’s role: leaders need to unleash individuals’ talents, yet also harness all those diverse talents to yield a useful and cohesive result.
So well stated!!
It’s easy to think of many new ideas, but it’s much more difficult to convert those ideas into something new that actually solves a problem.
As a leader, you must constantly ask yourself, “How will I:
- Affirm each person’s need for individual recognition and identity yet also tend to the needs of the collective?
- Encourage team members to support one another while simultaneously challenging and provoking each other through robust debate?
- Foster experimentation, continuous learning and high performance?
- Determine how much structure — rules, hierarchy, planning and the like — provide sufficient constraints without stifling improvisation?
- Mix patience and a sense of urgency?
- Balance bottom-up initiatives and top-down interventions?”
The “right” position at any moment will depend on specific current circumstances. The goal will always be to take whatever positions enable the collaboration, experimentation, and integration necessary for innovation.
And we must continue to hone our leadership and managerial skill!!
This kind of leadership is not easy, especially for leaders who hold conventional notions of top-down leadership, or who find conflict or loss of control uncomfortable. Even skilled leaders of innovation find it hard not to favor one side of the paradox scales over the other. The task of creating new and useful things requires leaders to continually recalibrate the needs of their organizations and to modify their behavior accordingly. They must develop the capacity to lead from the right place on each scale for the moment and situation.
And such a lovely conclusion…
Many leaders need to rethink what they do if they want a more innovative organization. It takes a powerful leader to unleash and harness innovation. This power resides in managing paradox rather than controlling destiny.
So may we all become Managers of Paradox!!