What does being an 'innovative leader' actually entail?

Most of us have experienced working under an autocratic leader. After all, where would our satirical comic strips set in the workplace come from if not for this type of 'boss'?

These leaders have a management style based solely around their own particular opinions, and are loath to change them. They make the rules and you stick to them. There is little consideration for any input or ideas put forward by other team members. So keep your ideas to yourself.

Autocratic leadership still exists in many workplaces, and sure, in some places, it still works. There are certain situations where speed is required and decisions need to be made quickly. In environments such as manufacturing and construction this method of leadership is effective. As we adapt to the changes heralded by the 21st century, it is becoming widely outdated in most other industries. In today’s environment, workplaces tend to be more naturally collaborative and as technology has developed, so has the need for increased innovation in the workplace. We need innovative leaders.

Staying competitive in business is everything. So why does innovative leadership work? Simply put, it’s about putting creative thinking into action, which in turn encourages creative thinking and practise amongst employees.

These leaders don’t necessarily need to generate the ideas themselves, but they recognise a great idea and make it a reality. They know how best to work with individuals and creative thinkers in their organisation. They know how to nurture ideas. And that’s what it’s really about. In their ability to encourage creativity, these innovative leaders move away from the micro-management leaders of the past, who often stifle creativity. With the new lease of freedom that employees are given, with the time and space to think inventively, new and creative steps to a better business can be made.

Read: The ideas that are inspiring tomorrow's leaders

Common traits in innovative leadership include the ability to create a culture of trust and transparency. More leaders today are steering towards being open and honest with their employees by providing them with up-to-date knowledge on how the organisation and team are performing, making their value more apparent. Communication as a whole is a vital role of the innovative leader. Not only must they provide employees with information on the firm, but also clearly discuss their vision and create a sense of enthusiasm among their employees to strive towards a shared goal. By creating this atmosphere of honesty and trust, employees are not only likely to feel more valued but are encouraged to contribute their own ideas on areas of improvement.

Many models have been created to harness and create an innovative working environment and research has suggested how best to implement this process. We have repeatedly seen elements of what is known as the "ideas funnel". In Robert B Tucker’s innovation model we see it appear as the forefront of innovation. This is where ideas are generated. In Tucker’s essential principles of innovation he explains that leaders must teach people how to think through their ideas, to know which are in line with company values, and be confident enough to sell those ideas.

In Tucker’s model, it is the responsibility of management to promote and implement the new ideas created in running a successful innovative process. A flexible working culture is an important part of innovative leadership. So what does that mean and how is it achieved?

With flexibility, as technology advances, we’re able to move away from the nine to five role (we’ll continue to pay homage to it in karaoke, thanks Dolly). Many employees can now work remotely from home, with ease, and with little disruption to the team. It takes creatively orientated management to implement a system like this, and recognise that it works and is beneficial for employer and employee. Creating a positive, open and trusting culture and placing trust in employees enables them to feel more comfortable and confident to share ideas. This is what innovative leadership is all about - nurturing the talent in your team to create an open, collaborative environment that produces efficient results and a stream of new ideas.

In his 1943 paper, ‘A Theory of Human Motivation,’ psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the pyramid hierarchy of needs and it’s still widely used today to ascertain the stages of an individual’s needs. Once we are satisfied in our physiological, safety and love needs, we look to fulfil our need for self-esteem and self-worth. We need to feel accomplished.

By making employees feel engaged and needed, you will have a huge impact on their motivation, and innovative leaders understand this. The final stage of the pyramid, self-actualisation, involves fulfilling ones potential, where creativity is nurtured. That’s the top of the pyramid, feeling like you have the ability to achieve your full potential, and when one feels this self-fulfilled, it is reflected in their work. Innovative leadership is smart leadership.

I’ve worked with a variety of leaders, each with their own management style. Whether it’s for personal fulfilment or simply feeling like my opinion matters, I’ve always greatly valued the leaders who wanted to hear my ideas, and act on them.

As a leadership style it’s becoming the 'new norm'. The characteristics and influence it has on a firm’s culture makes sense with modern practices. Let’s face it, technology will continue to develop, and we need to adapt, grow, learn and explore new possibilities. Autocratic management won’t be able to keep up in this world.

"It’s cool you feel validated at your firm and get to make a difference and all... but I prefer to just do what I’m told and stick to it without question." - Said no-one ever.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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