How to Find Tomorrow’s Leaders of Innovation

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.”

From the start, however, finding good candidates proved difficult. For one thing, Acumen’s mission required leaders who fell outside the typical mold. It relied on individuals who could manage nonprofits or public-sector organizations, but who also had the necessary business and oper­ational skills. Acumen was also seeking leaders who could think and collaborate beyond traditional systems, work with longer-time horizons, and succeed in spite of limited resources.

“Finding sustainable solutions to vexing and intractable problems requires leaders who know how to build innovative ecosystems, not just organizations..”

Few individuals could meet these standards, and so in 2007, Novogratz created the Global Fellows Program, a yearlong training program aimed at building a corps of leaders for the sector at the intersection between business and society. Eight years later, 75 individuals from 24 countries had already participated in the program.

As the success of the Fellows Program demonstrates, providing a critical mass of promising individuals with leadership tools that cut across sectors can create global ecosystems of innovation leaders. Novogratz and other business leaders who think like her realize that finding sustainable solutions to vexing and intractable problems requires leaders who know how to build innovative ecosystems, not just organizations.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Adapted from Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation. Copyright 2014 Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove & Kent Lineback. All rights reserved.

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