I read this article a few days ago, In a Distracted World, Solitude Is a Competitive Advantage. It was written in 2017, which had me thinking about how much more distracted our world has become even in two years. I’m personally a big fan of solitude, so the words here resonated with me – I’m just someone that needs space. Regardless of whether or not solitude is something you naturally need on a personal level, I think that in today’s always-on world, where pressure to meet expectations and accomplish goals is relentless, solitude is imperative to maintain strong leadership.
I had a chat this morning with Dave Willetts, Commercial Director and UK Head of Innovation at Baxi Heating, and was curious to ask him his thoughts on this concept and opinion on what it takes to be a leader of innovation (figured given his title, he’d have some thoughts!). As he replied, he essentially wrote this article for me – so thank you, Dave! Here are five practical ways to be a more innovative leader.
#1: Adjust Your Mindset
Dave first pointed out that to be a better leader of innovation, you have to embrace the right mindset and get away from feeling the need to put out the day-to-day fires of the business. “My job as a leader is not a caretaker of our current value, but a builder of our future – and I have to maintain that mindset,” says Dave. “Of course I’m here to manage my team, but my job really is to be creating a vision for our future, a strategy to help us achieve that vision, and develop the resource and KPIs to carry out that strategy. That’s innovation, and as a leader it is my responsibility.”
#2: Box Yourself In
Without being unreasonable, of course, Dave’s next piece of advice is to create some pressure for yourself to force innovation – in other words, box yourself in. “Having a vision that stretches you helps fuel an innovative culture,” says Dave. “Committing yourself to this vision gives you natural motivation and accountability to lead innovation in order to accomplish your objectives.” In an effort to support a culture of innovation at Baxi, one of the changes Dave has introduced is the idea of running experiments rather than projects. Reframing around experiments gives the connotation of learning versus perceived failing and allows the team to react quickly to what’s working (and what’s not).
#3: Change Your Scenery
Going back to the article I linked above and the idea of solitude, not only do you need periods of whitespace to think but oftentimes a change of scenery during that whitespace can be beneficial. Dave agrees, and says that he encourages himself and his team to move. “It can be helpful to simply get up and get out of your chair, and even more so to get out of the building,” he says. “Go spend some time with customers, or with other companies – immerse yourself in the environment. Learning and networking is so important to innovation.” Oftentimes, ideas can be sparked when you take some space that would never surface while sitting still. For some leaders this practice may come naturally; for others, it will be important to schedule time in to take these breaks to ensure you actually do.
#4: Build Your Network
As we know at Future of Field Service, there’s immense value in learning from your peers. Perhaps no one has things all figured out, but everyone has a slightly different take and angle and oftentimes just taking the time to hear someone else’s viewpoints and methods of attack can spark the tiniest light in you that grows into the flame of innovation. This is why networking with peers in and beyond your industry is so important, whether that’s at industry events, through LinkedIn, or otherwise. “Build as big of an external network as you can, and learn from that network,” says Dave. “But be sure that as you’re learning, you are also being conscious of giving back – it’s important to add value back into your network as well.”
#5: Consider Your “Don’ts” As Well As Your “Do’s”
Going back to Dave’s first point, it’s important for you as a leader to start thinking about what your responsibilities are – and what they aren’t. As the article points out, it can be a good idea to use some solitude to reflect on what you’re spending your time on that is not proving worthwhile and begin making a “don’t” list. This list can include things that simply aren’t serving your business or your team and no longer need to be done, or it can include tasks that do need to be accomplished but should be delegated to someone on your team in order to free up your time. “Innovation is most certainly about creating new value, but it’s just as much about getting rid of what’s not working,” says Dave.