Innovative Leadership - Substance versus Style!

Bill Thomas

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This may come as a surprise but when it comes to innovative leadership, substance wins out over style every time.

Most organizations focus their time, attention and money on training or recruiting operational, activity-based leaders - however, very few companies devote any investment in the development of innovative leadership competences.

Unlike traditional leadership, style isn't as important as the substance of an innovative leader.

Leadership styles usually involve strategic solutions to tactical challenges - leaders employ styles to influence, govern or relate to people.

Innovative leadership depends on the substance of one's innovation strategy, the model for innovating in use, the principles and fundamentals of the technologies involved in the innovation, and the organizational elements needed to make the innovation successful.

What follows are some criteria you can use to identify, recruit, develop and improve the capabilities of qualified candidates for your innovative leadership ranks.

Tip-1 - Has Acquired a Broad, Insightful Knowledge of the Humanities, Technologies or your Industry

This candidate has extensively read or written about and possesses in-depth experiential knowledge of one or more of the following areas:

  1. Understands the challenges of the human condition [perhaps worked as a missionary, been a volunteer, or lived and participated in the affairs of a foreign community],
  2. Knows one or more of the technologies critical to your organization's success or
  3. Worked in the exact or a related industry or has experience working with a similar business model as yours

The more of these experiences and knowledges a candidate has acquired, the more likely she is to have the potential for becoming a superior innovative leader.

An ideal profile might look like this:

"Candidate-A is a former relief aid worker who lived and worked in 2 or more other countries, who studied technology while in school and who worked for 3 years as a part-time associate at a competitor company. "

Tip-2 Appreciates Why the Engineering of Systems, Cycles, Processes and Graphic Representations Are Primary Causes for Organizational Success

Your search for and promotion of qualified candidates for innovative leadership positions must include those persons who are able to eloquently express or demonstrate the requirements for and importance of systems, cyclical principles, processes and graphical depictions of key business elements.

Those candidates who have this level of appreciation for core organizational components will have performed prodigious amounts of work on them or spent significant amounts of time trying to refine, improve or radically change the systems, cyclical or process-oriented natures, or graphical representations of their work environments or operational model.

You're likely to find these types of employees working within your midst, or they may have recently joined your organization from other companies.

Tip-3 - Embraces, Leads or Has Experienced and Is Now Prepared for Radical Change

While most people either avoid making changes or prefer not to undergo change, innovative leadership demands an emotional and psychological acceptance of or a positive mental attitude for the constant realities of change.

In keeping with the themes of Tips one and two, you will discover these people have experienced serious changes in their living conditions or locations, work environments or situations and in their job descriptions or knowledge bases.

You may want to groom these people by helping them strengthen their relationship-building, communications, collaboration and cooperation and coaching skills. Your investments of time and money would be well rewarded.


The famous innovator, entrepreneur and industrialist, Howard Hughes, purportedly said, "Never judge a man by his appearnace, always judge him by his experience!" His sentitment is the dominant theme of this article.

You can not evaluate a person based on what you see, you must use conversations to determine their worth to your organization instead. A scripted interview or your everyday homogenuous scoring sheet system is not likely to identify truly innovative leadership candidates.

Who would have hired Bill Gates as a software developer, Warren Buffet as stock broker, Sir Richard Branson as an entrepreneurial leader or Steve Jobs as a CEO using ordianry hiring criteria and methods?

"Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi. "
- Oprah Winfrey, Entertainment and Social Entrepreneur

Nearly every innovator has been a serious student of life, technology or business - the majority of innovative leaders are readers or experimenters or doers in their subject matter of choice and interest.

You will discover what the true secret of innovative leadership is: innovators have a passion, commitment and loyalty for pursuing and being excellence. In a word, innovative leaders will put substance above style everytime.

Copyright © 2006, Mustard Seed Investments Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Bill Thomas energizes your innovative leadership & innovations via Imagination Age methods - his books, software & training programs empower business skills & processes, improve strategic advantages, produce tangible value & deliver powerful results! See how his Executive Briefings, Management Handbooks, Professional Guides & Innovation Workshops:
"Super-Seed & Sustain Your Innovative Leadership Power!"


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