A client of ours recently asked us to develop a 2-day program on three things: innovation, diversity-and-inclusion, and communication. They need their leaders to get a common handle on these issues because this large global company faces changes in their industry driven by customers, competitors and technology, and they need to engage the hearts, minds, and hands of a large workforce on four continents that is diverse in every way imaginable: gender, generation, country and culture of origin, race, religion, socio-economics – you name it.
We looked at that brief with its three distinct deliverables and said: “You are not asking for three things. You are asking for one thing that is large, complex and interconnected. What you are asking for requires a degree of leadership throughout the organization that is a grand leap above the ex-military model you’ve got going now. Innovation is the desired outcome, an engaged diverse workforce is the engine, and excellent communications is one of the means to align everything in ways that lead to new ideas, new products and services, and customers willing to open their purses even in this recession.”
For leadership to gain traction in complexity, we need to see the interconnections of issues that seem independent of each other. As resources tighten in the current recession, this imperative is even more important. Innovation comes from both new and old ideas coming in contact with each other in ways which produce creative action.
This does not happen only in R&D labs, or in think tanks or skunk works separate from the daily business of the firm. Our research in developing the Leadership Code tells us that innovation can and must happen in every domain of the leadership opportunity: in strategy development, in operational execution, in dealing with talent, in developing the future workforce and in opening up oneself to the possibilities.
All of these domains involve engaging others. There is an old saw in the leadership business that you can’t be a leader without followers. In our era, you can’t be a leader without engaging others every step of the way.