The Leadership Gap in Innovation

by Jesse Nieminen

the leadership gap

A vast majority of executives, more than 80% according to sources, consider innovation to be paramount for the future success of their organization.

Yet, very few of them are succeeding in it. A McKinsey study, for example, puts the number of executives who are satisfied with their innovation performance at 6%.

There’s clearly a huge gap between expectations and actual innovation performance, but where does it originate from?

In a word, the leadership.

Shaping the Future is the Leader’s Job

At the end of the day, innovation is simply about shaping the future of the organization.

For some, that might mean incremental improvements to increase their cost leadership position, for others it might mean disrupting an entire industry. Regardless, successful innovation is always a strategic endeavour, closely linked to either creating or executing the strategy.

There have been plenty of brilliant innovation teams that were the frontrunners in innovation, but who simply didn’t have the authority to pursue their potential to truly shape the business, most famously Kodak. Even though they invented the digital camera, it was never embraced as the future of the company, which eventually led to their downfall.

Thus, innovation, or lack thereof, is ultimately the responsibility of top management. No one else has the authority to decide on these issues.

However, there’s far too few leaders that truly embrace innovation as the strategic endeavour it is and take responsibility for using it to shape to future.

This is quite understandable considering how psychologically difficult it is to embrace an uncertain future, let alone lead others towards it, especially if you don’t yet have the business case for it. However, if you want your organization to remain relevant in the future, you simply have to do that.

So, don’t let your company slowly languish away. Let others take care of some of the operative things you’re dealing with and be the leader you were hired to be. Find the time and energy to build and validate the future of your organization. Be the leader you were hired to be.

So, How Do You Get There?

We’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of organizations to make more innovation happen.

In general, we’ve seen successful innovators primarily focus on four areas: creating a vision, building an organization that can achieve that vision, leading and empowering their team to succeed in that, as well as ultimately adapting their approach based on what they’ve learned along the way.

These four areas, however, aren’t unique to innovation. The same principles apply for leadership in general.

The difference is that some leaders are stuck in the way things have been in the past and the way they currently are, whereas others have the energy, passion and curiosity to try to understand and shape the future.

I hope you’ll share the message and hold yourself, as well as the other leaders in your organization, accountable for being curious and passionate. Make it a priority to create a better future, for all of us.

Even though things are generally better than they’ve ever been in the history of mankind, we, as a society, still need more innovation.

Join me tomorrow February 21, 2019 at 11AM EST, 8AM PST for our Innovation Master Class Webinar: Transforming Your Culture with Innovation Practices

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Jesse Nieminen is the Co-founder and Chairman at Viima, the best way to collect and develop ideas. Viima’s innovation management software is already loved by thousands of organizations all the way to the Global Fortune 500. He’s passionate about helping leaders drive innovation in their organizations and frequently writes on the topic, usually in Viima’s blog.

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