To successfully navigate the innovation process, you need more than one type of leader.

As the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest point.

This applies to many aspects of life but is especially visible when your organization is trying to roll out a new innovation initiative.

Most companies have a single innovation leader who is responsible for driving new product creation and system improvements. While it makes sense to have this kind of oversight, companies can fall into a trap when that same leader is responsible for driving innovation through all six stages: identify, define, develop, verify, deploy, and scale. This is because no one person is the perfect fit for all six stages. With only one type of innovation leader, certain stages in the innovation process can suffer or not be executed to the fullest extent.

To improve your team’s chances of success, you must have different types of leaders guiding each of the stages of innovation. The mindset and skills of a leader who is ideal for the first stage won’t be the best fit later in the innovation process, and vice versa. You need different tools, methodologies, personalities, skills, and even passions to execute each step in the process correctly.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need a large team with multiple leaders to find success; even within a small team you can designate innovation champions to lead through the stage where their skills are strongest—and sometimes a single leader is a great fit for multiple stages. Knowing the leadership personality type that best fits each stage and using assessment tools can help you determine who should lead each stage.

Review the guide below to discover which type of innovation leader you are—and keep an eye out for other contributors who might already be on your team and could act as innovation leaders in each stage of innovation.

The Six Types of Innovation Leaders

  1. The Persuader. This leader’s goal is to identify challenges and opportunities around which to innovate. They are ideators who are open to many ideas from different sources without falling in love with just one idea. They should be able to motivate others to brainstorm and identify opportunities as well. Persuader leaders are usually receptive, selfless, and team-oriented while maintaining their own creativity, futuristic thinking, and desire to continue learning. With these skills, The Persuader can achieve results through those in their organization or on their team and execute Stage 1 well.
  2. The Coordinator. Stage 2, the Define Stage, requires a leader who is goal-oriented, organized, and has strong time and priority management skills. This leader is collaborative, objective, and consistent, able to develop and follow up on the commitments made in Stage 1 in concert with their team. This is the leader who will focus on the details of the job that needs to be done. While the Stage 1 leader is often expansive, bringing in more and more ideas for problems and opportunities, a Stage 2 leader is more constrictive in the work of taking those ideas and creating an organized approach toward resolution. These first two leaders are an excellent example of why different stages of innovation require different leaders.
  3. The Conductor. Now that the path forward has been defined, The Conductor looks to the big picture in Stage 3—driving those around them to develop a resolution. This type of leader can be demanding and commanding in their approach to leadership. They use language that shows their sense of urgency and ask questions like, “How quickly can you get this done?” However, these leaders are also versatile and able to help if their people get stuck on a problem. Conductors are resilient problem solvers, endeavoring to address any difficulties that occur during the Develop Stage.
  4. The Analyzer. The leader of Stage 4, the Verify Stage, should be someone who is very intentional and focused on data and feedback. They need to analyze the data coming in from the prototype or minimum viable product (MVP) that was developed in Stage 3 to ensure accuracy and success. This is why The Analyzer is often unforgiving to ambiguity—they need the full truth about what works and what doesn’t. These leaders typically will stand by the data and any policies or commitments made earlier in the innovation process. They are skilled at providing creative feedback on how or why an innovation does or doesn’t work and what can be done to improve the MVP going forward.
  5. The Implementer. With improvements made, The Implementer is focused on getting the innovation to market. They should be goal-oriented, resource- and ROI-driven, and intent on getting the innovation to as many people as possible. This type of leader is less interested in new ideas and more interested in getting the innovation adopted, and they often have a great sense of urgency because of that. This is someone who can balance both the goals and the details defined in previous stages to complete their project on time, within budget, and with high standards of quality.
  6. The Promoter. The leader of the final stage of innovation should be very influential and enthusiastic about the innovation they are promoting. The Promoter is often a strong negotiator and versatile thinker—they like to ideate about different ways the innovation could be used or adopted by others beyond the original audience. This leader is focused on scale and maximizing their ROI, so they are usually open to new ideas on who can use the innovation and how it can be implemented in different ways.

Each time you approach a new innovation project, keep the six stages in mind—and be aware that no one leader can lead every stage effectively. By collaborating, sharing leadership roles, and investing the time it takes to get to know yourself as an innovator, you’ll be able to better guide your team through any innovation process.

Header Photo by MART PRODUCTION via Pexels.