Innovation can seem like controlled chaos—and it will certainly feel like a roller coaster to all involved. This means that you’ll need a leadership style that’s appropriate for the fast-growth period of your company’s life.
So what kind of leadership suits: ‘command and control’; ‘democratic’; ‘hands-on’?
None of the above, says Stephen Drain of AUT’s Centre for Innovative Leadership. Or at least, not at first. Drain says leadership must first be authentic before it can be anything else. “To generate followers you must first engender trust—which is not easily given. Trust is fragile and is lost when leaders are dishonest, especially with themselves. So the first thing we do is ask: ‘what skills do you bring to the table? Let’s build on those’.”
Drain works with plenty of innovators and entrepreneurs and finds that they’re forced to be jacks-of-all trades. Applying the rules of authentic leadership means entrepreneurs must first acknowledge their weakness and fill in the gaps by hiring the appropriate team. “It makes you vulnerable, because your honesty exposes your weaknesses. But it simultaneously builds trust.”
Next, leaders of innovative groups must themselves be innovative. Drain is sceptical of reaching for a ‘box’ of leadership solutions. Every day is different so the leader needs a variety of responses: sometimes flexible and sometimes autocratic. The key is empowering the team with the freedom to act out their roles. “When a team is correctly empowered to act, it can be very profound and profitable. In many ways the innovative leader is there to empower not to do.”
With customers from the corporate world, such as BNZ and the Warehouse, and from SMEs and not-for-profits, Drain sees a wide variety of leadership needs. The key, he says, is to not reach for a formula but to find the right response for the right moment.
Wilson Irons, the chief executive of the Anglican Trust for Women and Children, is a regular customer of Drain’s coaching programme. In addition to ongoing coaching, Drain has assisted Irons manage a complex restructuring. “What I like is that Stephen is that he’s naturally inquisitive,” says Irons. “He’s genuinely interested as so extracts genuine responses. He’s a skilled coach and I’ve recommend other managers take his programmes.”
Courses for horses
The Centre for Innovative Leadership runs a variety of courses:
• Public: from two-day workshops to three month ‘while you work’ programmes
• Customised: in-house training for staff
• One-on-one: coaching and mentoring
Drain says many entrepreneurs take the courses. “They’re typically more demanding and very eager to learn. You’ve got to keep on your toes!”
You can visit the CIL website at leadership.aut.ac.nz and read Stephen Drain’s blog stephendrain.com/
Centre for Innovative Leadership
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