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Posted by Isobel McEwan 2 November 2016 Innovation Consultancy

It is well known that even the most organic grassroots innovation needs direction, leadership and strategy for it to be successful.

The same applies to change. This could be incremental change to the methods and efficiency of your organisation or revolutionary structural and directional change to your entire strategy. Yet whether working at the micro or macro level, strong leadership is a must.

Here are three ways leaders can, and must be the drivers of change when it comes to innovation and strategy.


Creating change is a long term goal, and committing to the techniques that can be implemented at a daily level to achieve these ends is important.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review (HBR), senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management Douglas Ready has argued that ‘it’s far easier to talk about revitalisation and renewal than to actually do it. The companies that pull it off have transformation leaders that commit to a relentless learning process.’

Using the example of Alan Mulally and his turnaround of Ford Motor Company (you can read an interesting interview with Mulally by McKinsey here), Ready discusses how Mulally set about implementing a ‘Creating Value Roadmap’ designed to assess problems and progress as a means of generating change.

What is important to note is that despite initial resistance and reluctance to admit the existence of challenges, Mulally was able to gain the trust of his team and focus on constantly learning from mistakes, challenges, successes and failures.

HBR concludes that ‘these practices create a culture of agility and resiliency that will pay dividends out into the future, as large-scale change becomes an organisational capability and not a recipe for management failure.’


You may have heard the terms “change leadership” and “change management”, and could be forgiven for thinking them to be interchangeable or two halves of the same coin.

However, Forbes has argued that in fact the two are mutually exclusive and should be seen as two distinct entities. According to the article, change management can be defined as ‘a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control [whereby] the goal is often to minimise the distractions and impacts of the change.’

Change leadership, on the other hand, ‘concerns the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation’. US-based management consultancy Kotter International have produced a useful video explaining the differences, in particular emphasising that change leadership particularly focuses on articulating a vision of the future and working towards making the process of change work faster and more efficiently.

Although written in 2011, Forbes’ article highlights a number of points that remain as important today as they did five years previously. It is argued that most organisations seek to limit the process of change to maintain a feeling of being in control, of minimal disruption and a maintenance of the status quo.

That these conditions are not hotbeds of innovation should be self-evident, and thus moving towards a leadership style which actively encourages change rather than manages it is important for moving forwards and pushing the boundaries of progress in an organisation.


While one of the main responsibilities of leaders is to enable others to be reflective of their role in the team, their personal qualities and their potential to contribute to change and innovation, it is important that leaders remember to take the time to apply this ethos to themselves.

Global management consultancy McKinsey&Company have argued that ‘anyone who pulls the organisation in new directions must look inward as well as outward.’

Quoting the iconic Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy as saying “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”, McKinsey&Company claim that this outlook ‘is a useful starting point for any executive engaged in organisational change.’

It is argued that while it is important for change leaders to look beyond the boundaries of the individual, the team, or even the organisation, ‘a new strategy will fall short of its potential if it fails to address the underlying mind-sets and capabilities of the people who will execute it.’

With research suggesting that ‘half of all efforts to transform organisational performance fail either because senior managers don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organisation defend the status quo’, as a leader taking the time to reflect on how to build a strong culture of change is important.

Through a combination of these three factors it is possible to orient your leadership to become a key driver of change and innovation in an organisation. If you’re not sure what practical steps to take to make this a reality in your leadership structures, contact us using the link below to see how think can help.


As global innovation specialists we aim to help and encourage people and organizations to become more nimble, boosting their ability to generate ideas. We bring pace and focus to your innovation initiatives using our unique innovation techniques, which are constantly being developed by our professional licensees. If you’re interested in becoming a licensee for the think team, contact us here.

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