Need innovative leaders? Look for agility and alertness

Those characteristics are essential to engaging “disruptive innovation.”

By John Chandler

Clayton Christenson teaches at Harvard Business School, is the author of seven books and is co-founder of four companies. In 2011, he was named the world’s most influential business thinker in a biennial ranking conducted by Thinkers50. In his most well-known book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, he coined the term “disruptive innovation” as a core image of how eruptive technologies break into our world and create new market categories.

It is a must-read for anyone interested in how inventiveness functions today. And it has prompted me to think of the emerging competencies of innovative leaders. What do we look for and measure when we are trying to scout for disruptive innovators today?

A conversation about this with my own leadership coach, Dan Elash, has led me to write down a few of these ideas. In this and two other columns, I’m going to suggest three pairs of leadership competencies that I believe will be critical for innovative disrupters: agility and alertness, resourcefulness and output, and temperance and courtesy. With each competency, I will suggest a “grade” on a 4.0 scale as a benchmark for demonstrated ability.

Agility is the deployment of imagination and creativity used to lower costs, improve profits and find breakthroughs. It is characterized by an ability to change tactics as opportunity presents itself without undue focus on the costs of the shifts. How agile are you?

4 — Outstanding: Very innovative. Constantly offers suggestions for improving operations. Easily shifts on the fly.

3 — Very Good: Often suggests beneficial changes and profit/cost improvement. Able to shift tactics without undue focus on costs of transition.

2 — Satisfactory: Solid reasoning ability. Seldom errs in judgment. Able to adjust.

1 — Some deficiency evident: Rarely suggests new ideas. Balks at deviations from starting plan.

0 — Unsatisfactory: Never offers a new procedure or new idea. A roadblock to on-the-fly adjustments and can sabotage unplanned progress.

Closely related to agility is alertness, which is the ability to quickly understand and adapt to new information and situations. It is about learning on the fly, demonstrating the simultaneous ability to focus and yet also to explore unexpected and possibly fruitful paths. Alertness shows adaptability and flexibility. Here are its metrics:

4 — Outstanding: Extremely bright. Analyzes and understands with minimum of instruction. Intuitive and observant about developments germane to high performance.

3 — Very Good: Fast learner. Grasps new information quickly. Incorporates new learning well.

2 — Satisfactory: Understands most new ideas and developments without excessive explanation. Sticks to assignment and discerns between helpful and unhelpful interruptions.

1 — Some deficiency evident: Usually needs extra instruction. Derailed too easily.

0 — Unsatisfactory: Very slow to grasp ideas and events. Unaware of social and task dynamics.

Looking to innovate? Looking for a disruptive innovator? Measure agility and alertness, and you’ll get an idea of where you stand.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.