The 10 Essential Traits of an Innovation Leader

Kao agrees: executives need to have a certain amount of flexibility with new projects. “Sometimes you have to tighten up and sometimes you have to loosen up. I think that it’s very important to understand that innovation is not just one thing. It’s the flexibility that’s so important. There’s no algorithm for innovation, a lot of it is about human beings.”

Executives must also experiment with new ideas they find within but also outside the company, a process called open-source innovation. “Business and technology leaders are
increasingly aware of the need to tap all possible sources of technologies
and ideas, both internally and externally,” said Deschamps.

Creativity and practicality – Innovation leaders know when to be creative, know what works and what doesn’t. In his book Deschamps calls this a mix of “emotion and realism” and “creativity and process discipline.” According to Deschamps, innovation leaders are creative in searching for ideas, thinking out of the box and finding new ways of running an operation, but they also know when to pull the plug on an ill-fated project when innovation falters.
“Killing projects, particularly when there is no obvious technical reason to do so, only market or economic uncertainties, is generally one of the most difficult and less understood parts of a leader’s job,” notes Deschamps. “All chief technology officers (CTOs) and R&D managers know it well.”

An eye on the “Big Picture” – “Since their role involves ensuring that innovation becomes part of the corporate DNA, innovation leaders need to be capable of analyzing the big picture both in and outside the company,” said Lindegaard. An understanding of forces outside the company as well as the political dynamics within a company help a leader move an innovation agenda forward, he explains.

Forming a team – “Innovation is absolutely a team effort, and innovation leaders know how to make and build teams, because you need a number of capabilities at the same time to make it happen,” said Deschamps. “And balancing that team is a capability that you quite often see as the strong point of an innovation leader.”

Always an optimist – According to Lindegaard, innovation leaders see new challenges as opportunities rather than problems. “Setbacks that would cause others to fold their tents don’t shake the faith of these optimists; they are confident in their ability to succeed at anything they set out to do,” he adds.

Brian Horowitz is a freelance technology writer based in New York. He regularly follows innovation, mobility and the convergence of technology and health. He has contributed to more than 20 publications, including Computer Shopper,, Fast Company,, NYSE Magazine, and USA Weekend, as well as other consumer and trade publications.