How Innovative Leaders Lead Innovative Organizations

The current issue of Forbes features a ranking of the world’s most innovative companies ( ). The list itself is instructive and inspiring and refreshingly international.

At least as important, though, are the issue’s introductory comments, which make clear that a crucial commonality among the innovative companies is the presence in them of innovative leaders.  That may seem at first unsurprising or even obvious: of course organizations are oriented or defined by their leadership.  But Forbes gets more specific and identifies several key traits and tendencies that leaders use to help their organizations build and sustain an innovation premium.  These include the “3P’s”: that is, the capability of effective leaders to continually leverage people, processes, and philosophy.

The introduction goes on to reference a favorite study of mine that has quickly become a standard in analyzing and discussing innovative leadership: Dyer, Gregerson, and Christensen’s The Innovator’s DNA from 2011 (  The five “discovery skills” outlined in the book are associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting and they reveal both individually and collectively how innovative leaders successfully differentiate themselves and their organizations.  Many of the companies on the Forbes list, from Infosys to Estee Lauder to Amazon, feature innovative leaders who practice some if not all of these skills.  (Dyer and Gregerson collaborated with Forbes on the list.)

Leadership guidelines like the 3Ps or the five discovery skills are not sufficient in themselves, of course.  Their significance comes from being drawn from research and the successful examples of literally thousands of leaders and organizations.  But the true value of these insights about innovative leadership is to be found in how other and especially emergent leaders embrace the potential of the practices, reflect on and analyze their relevance to other organizations, and finally implement them in creative and effective ways.

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