The secrets of innovative leadership

Feb. 5, 2016
How to reinvent companies fast enough in a competitive market to sustain a workforce that is rapidly changing.

TO Gary M Heil, the question is how we will reinvent our companies fast enough in a competitive market to sustain a workforce that is rapidly changing.

Heil, founder of the Center for Innovative Leadership, said it is just that: innovative leadership.

He believes leadership failures do not usually result from leaders not knowing what to do—they happen because leaders fail to do what they know full well they should and must do. Most leaders never get fully comfortable with the changes that they wish for their organizations.

“Sometimes we know more about what we should do than we end up doing,” he said. “We’re better with the talk than the action.”

Heil said his company interviewed 700 people on three continents in an attempt to find out which three leaders, living or dead, most influenced their thinking or which ones they most admired. The top five: Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King.

What people look for: vision, trust, listening, authenticity, integrity, hope, addressing the needs of others, decisiveness, empathy, courage, conviction, values driven, persistent, passionate, and optimistic.

Creating a positive culture is huge.

“Disney has clean parks because the parks are already clean,” he said. “But if litter is already there, we are 30% more likely to throw a little on the ground. When you are inside the system, how long does it take before you become a prisoner of the system? Culture often trumps strategy. We hire someone with a great resume, but they don’t work out. Why?

“All organizational renewal begins with the personal renewal of the organization’s leaders. Leaders who are most effective have relationships that are stronger than other leaders. When you train a whale, you have to first teach him that you do him no harm. It’s a matter of trust. Lead with relationships. You can’t influence me unless you have a relationship.

“What distinguishes great leaders from the rest is that great leaders have fundamentally different attitudes toward those they hope will follow. They care more and expect more. It’s about relationships, not networks.”

Questions for leaders to ask:

• Where are we going? Why is it important? Be clear and compelling.

• Are we passionate, positive, and optimistic about the opportunity?

• Are we confident that we will get there?

• Is there enough in it for workers so that they are willing to commit to the effort?

“Enlist people in a meaningful cause worthy of their commitment,” he said. “We live in a world that rewards only remarkable. In that absence of a reason to sacrifice, self-interest is all there is.”  ♦