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January 2008

Happy New Year and greetings! As you will see in this newsletter, I have kicked off 2008 by expanding my practice beyond the challenges of personal creativity to include the challenges leaders face in building a culture of sustained innovation.

From the Innovation Summit (see featured article), we learned that innovation is the key strategic lever for growth over the coming years. Yet, few companies seem able to achieve and sustain a high performing culture of innovation.

Leaders are learning that innovation is not just about creating more ideas. The focus is shifting toward execution as well. But even here, there are no easy answers. Silo thinking, lack of supportive processes, and hazy company direction make the execution of good ideas a frustrating and often impossible exercise for those individuals charged with driving innovation within the organization.

The challenge for leaders now is figuring out how to achieve the balance necessary for more sustainable innovation.

For more information on how to do this, read on.....

in this issue
  • Innovation Summit 2007
  • How Do Successful Leaders Think?
  • Leadership Versatility Index

  • How Do Successful Leaders Think?
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    According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise."
    In the June issue of Harvard Business Review, Roger Martin, Dean of the University of Toronto's Management School, described his discovery that effective leaders are integrative thinkers. They can hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once and then come up with a new idea that contains elements of each but is superior to both.

    Martin argues that this integrative thinking process is the hallmark of exceptional businesses and the people who run them. To support his point, he examines how integrative thinkers approach the four stages of decision making to craft superior solutions.

    First, they expand on the obvious when examining problems. Second, they think multidirectionally not just linearly. Third, they see the whole problem and how the parts fit together. Fourth, they creatively resolve the tensions between opposing ideas in order to generate new alternatives.

    According to Martin, integrative thinking is an ability everyone can hone. He points to several examples of business leaders who have done so, such as Bob Young, cofounder and former CEO of Red Hat, the dominant distributor of Linux open-source software. Young recognized from the beginning that he didn't have to choose between the two prevailing software business models. Inspired by both, he forged an innovative third way, creating a service offering for corporate customers that placed Red Hat on a path to tremendous success.

    Another HBR article, "Turning Great Strategy into Great Performance" (July, 2005) sounds the same theme. The authors explain that strategic excellence involves not only coming up with and communicating a vision and strategy but also developing realistic, solidly grounded plans. Successful leaders then use these strategic plans to drive execution through assigning accountabilities and continuous monitoring.

    Whether it's finding the resolution to a contradiction, or managing the tension between strategy creation and execution to close the innovation performance gap, leaders need to work both sides of the equation. To do this they need to learn to be more versatile. (For more on versatility, see the next article!)

    Leadership Versatility Index
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    In response to requests from clients to provide tools to improve their abilities to drive more growth and innovation, I recently became licensed in the Leadership Versatility Index® (LVI), a 360 degree assessment tool. I believe the LVI can be extremely helpful to leaders intent on building an organization of sustainable innovation for two reasons: because of what it measures and because of how it measures.

    First, to get at the challenge of managing the tensions and trade-offs inherent in building an organization of sustainable innovation, the LVI measures a leader's ability to balance two important dimensions in leadership: being forceful and enabling, and being strategic and operational.

    1. Forceful and enabling leadership. Forceful leadership involves taking the lead; enabling leadership creates conditions for other people to take the lead. Both are critical in managing innovation. Leaders need to be both decisive and participative, hold people accountable and provide the supportive and encouraging environment so critical for creativity and innovation.

    2. Strategic and operational leadership. While forceful and enabling leadership involves how leaders accomplish their goals, strategic and operational leadership concerns what they work on. Strategic leaders focus on medium and long-term success, developing a strategic vision and direction. Operational leaders know how to translate strategy into actionable plans and to track results in the short term. Leaders of sustainably innovative organizations are aggressive about growing the business but also respect the limits of the organization's capacity to grow; they inspire people with a vision and also keep people on track.

    The second reason I believe the LVI can benefit leaders is because of the way it measures this versatility, this balanced use of strengths as appropriate. While many instruments and feedback tools help leaders become more aware of their strengths and deficiencies, I know of no other instrument that measures lopsidedness in leaders, that very human tendency to heavily favor one side over the other

    Lopsidedness occurs when leaders do too much of a good thing, whether that's talking too much, pushing too hard, delegating too much authority, or getting bogged down in the details. Overusing strengths is no less of a problem than not using them enough. More is often not always better.

    Many leaders underestimate the full impact of their strengths on others. They think they're only going 55 miles per hour when in fact they're breaking the speed limit. That's how strengths can become weaknesses. Leaders can get themselves in trouble if they are, for instance, so detail-oriented that they never see the big picture and fail to plan for the future. Or they may be so visionary that they never pay attention to details. Or they are so forceful about setting direction and driving too hard for results that they neglect the people side.

    When a strength is overdone, there's another problem since typically a complementary skill or quality gets crowded out. Thus, leaders need to know when they are being lopsided, doing too much of one skill and too little of the opposite skill.

    Standard leadership assessment tools do not capture this lopsidedness, this notion of overdoing or underdoing. They are designed to identify weaknesses, not strengths taken too far. Nor do they focus on the two critical dimensions of leadership that I believe are critical for sustainable innovation. The LVI is based on a leadership framework that not only accounts for the complexities of the manager's job - the balances to be struck between forceful and enabling, strategic and operational leadership skills. It also captures possible lopsidedness in leaders through a unique online 360° tool that assesses excesses and underuse.

    The LVI has already proven to be extremely helpful for leaders around the world, which is why I have incorporated it into my executive coaching practice. Through the LVI, leaders learn not only how to achieve the right blend of complementary skills at the right time, but also how to avoid having too much of one side and too little of another. It's this versatility that will help leaders grow their companies and sustain innovation in the years ahead.

    To find out more about the LVI, you can check out the website: www.versatileleader.com

    Innovation Summit 2007

    On the top floor of the tallest building in Cologne, Germany, in November 2007, more than thirty leaders from global and German companies came together to learn more about the critical organizational levers that drive innovation. The Summit was organized by "innovation europe," a consulting firm that I have been affiliated with since 2002.

    In addition to these cultural levers, the Forum Participants also wanted to learn more about specific practices to address performance gaps between developing a pipeline of new ideas and the ability to bring those ideas to market.

    Gerry Schmidt, partner in the US consulting firm of Jackson and Schmidt (www.jacksonschmidt.com), led the group in exploring the Denison Organizational Culture Survey and its results relative to innovation.

    The Denison Survey is designed to translate often difficult to understand behavioral concepts about organization culture into tangible. everyday business action and strategies.

    The Denison measures four different aspects of an organization's culture:

  • Mission: Defining a meaningful long- term direction for the organization
  • Adaptability: Translating the demands of the business environment into action
  • Consistency: Defining the values and systems that are the basis of a strong culture
  • Involvement: building human capability, ownership, and responsibility
  • After taking a mini version of the Denison to get a snapshot of possible challenges in their own organizations, the participants broke up into groups to exchange information on best practices for each of the quadrants.

    According to several participants, the Summit helped "clarify the link between culture and innovation as well as the importance of a long-term commitment from senior leadership." They also found "networking with other companies very fruitful." In the words of one participant, "the insight from others facing similar challenges was most inspiring."

    The Summit, organized by "innovation europe" and its two U.S. affiliates, is expected to meet again on October 30, 2008, with a plan to address the challenges of Strategic Leadership.

    If you would like more information on the Denison Organizational Survey, or the 2008 Innovation Summit, please email me!


    Lynne Levesque Consulting

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