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How to Find Tomorrow’s Leaders of Innovation

Great leaders of innovation see their role not as take-charge direction setters, but primarily as creators of a context in which others are willing and able to make innovation happen.

The question this raises is simple and critical: where will today’s organizations find tomorrow’s leaders of innovation?

Because leaders are more made than born, organizations must iden­tify people with “the right stuff” for leading innovation and provide them with the experiences and resources needed to develop the required mindset and skills. Yet, if today’s high-potential leaders of innovation don’t fit today’s popular conception of a good leader, many of them will be invisible to cur­rent systems for identifying and developing tomorrow’s leaders.

“Organizations must iden­tify people with “the right stuff” for leading innovation and provide them with the experiences and resources needed to develop the required mindset and skills.”

WHAT WE BELIEVE TO BE THE RIGHT STUFF
Leadership concerns not only what a person knows and does, but also who he or she is. Despite differences in culture, age and gender, the leaders we have studied share certain personal qualities that allowed them to lead in ways that fostered the growth of innovative communities. They were idealists, yet pragmatists. They were holistic thinkers, yet action-oriented. They were gener­ous, yet demanding. Perhaps most importantly, they were human, yet resilient.

Take, for example, Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen. In 2001, Novogratz founded Acumen to identify, invest in, strengthen, and scale early-stage enterprises that provided low-income consumers with access to healthcare, water, housing, education, alternative energy and agricultural inputs.

“We were looking for ventures with visionary leaders who were using business approaches to solve big social problems,” Novogratz said. “Their enterprises had to demonstrate the likelihood of financial sustainability and hold the promise of reaching a million customers over time.”

About Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback