We are all innovators by nature. Like Emotional Intelligence (EI), innovation can be developed into a practice and set of skills that are honed over time. As game changers and team role models, CEOs and leaders need to leverage EI and innovation at every level of the organisation, inspiring and motivating employees to harness these qualities.
Innovation can be defined as the organisational capacity to find new ideas, convert them into value, and distribute them through an organisation over time. The discovery of new ideas is only the first step in the process. Innovation is about more than just responding to change — it’s about creating change in creative and sustainable ways.
A healthy business culture prioritises innovative ideas and positive transformation day-to-day, on both a micro and macro level.
An innovative leader uses change as fuel for action, treating every change as a renewed opportunity to thrive — even in the face of failure. An innovative leader takes successful ideas and builds a community of support around them, driving a scale-up to full implementation and sustainable business growth.
An innovation culture is also grounded in emotional connections between people. These connections include not only the ways in which people are connected, but why they are connected. Without a reason for connecting, teams can fall apart.
A sense of community is integral to this. People need a burning reason for being connected — and for staying connected. Employees need to feel that they are listened to, valued and respected by others. They need to feel that they are contributing to a greater whole — a supportive and inspiring business community. It takes time, experimentation, trial and error, and ongoing dialogue to build this sense of community. CEOs and leaders need to be patient and persistent.
Trust is the first law of a community-oriented innovation culture. Trust is a two-way street — a balanced and meaningful relationship between leaders and employees. However, it’s important to remember that trust in an innovation culture doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, failure is part of the learning process. Teams who are committed to facing and overcoming problems together are far more likely to develop a strong and sustainable innovation culture that’s grounded in EI.
Emotionally intelligent employees are resilient employees. An employee’s self-confidence and ability to think outside the box is just as important as mutual trust between team members. For example, when a project fails, an employee who looks for new ways to improve and nurture new skills, treating the failure as a springboard for change, is more likely to inspire and instigate change within their team members. Self-confidence and self-reliance are key to building strong relationships between team members. We tend to have less trust in those who have limited trust within themselves.
Key “self-skills” such as self-confidence, self-reliance and trust play significant roles in the success of sharing and implementing ideas. Innovation happens through an ongoing process of exploring, trying and adopting. New solutions to complex problems can only be found through exploration, and there is almost always an element of risk involved.
This risk shouldn’t be shouldered solely by CEOs and leaders – employees, too, have their part to play. Funnelling all ideas through individual managers should be avoided. Employees need to feel empowered to brainstorm in creative and original ways, and take chances. Long-term business growth rests upon original ideas finding broader acceptance with others. Managers are great resources for supporting the process, but originality can be lost in the handover from an innovative employee to their manager.
Employees can be supported in their efforts to innovate through the right policies, practices and resources, with space for experimentation and discovery. A healthy innovation culture contains the ongoing generation, sharing and implementation of ideas and the scaling up of successful experiments, sparking further brainstorming between team members. The final destination for innovation is not in the hands of senior management, but in the hands of employees at every level of the organisation.