After all, what makes a leader in innovation?

100 Open Startups
4 min readNov 30, 2022

Leaders in innovation must be able to co-create the future and anticipate trends.

Written by Bruno Rondani, CEO of 100 Open Startups

In recent decades, companies have gone through some important managerial advances. The focus on quality has forced companies to develop more rigorous production processes. Then the wave of Lean and Six Sigma spurred companies to adopt even more stringent business processes, closing loopholes and creating tight controls. Eventually, companies adopted Downsizing and Outsourcing , where any task that could be eliminated was eliminated, and any work that could be outsourced at a lower cost was outsourced.

In this evolutionary process of companies, while they became better structured and efficient, they also became very rigid and, paradoxically, fragile in the face of sudden changes in the market and the environment. In a competitive scenario that is increasingly dependent on innovation, the managerial advances achieved in previous decades have become its greatest obstacle. From then on, developing skills to innovate became the main organizational challenge for companies .

What skills should an innovation leader have?

Considering the growing importance of innovation and the accelerated pace at which it is demanded, companies have increasingly started to treat it as a management process. Just like finance, marketing, production and sales, innovation also began to demand trained and specialized professionals . Companies understand that they can no longer depend on the individual genius of an extraordinary leader. At the same time, the idea is increasingly shared that innovation cannot be restricted to one department or function (such as R&D, IT, marketing or top management).

Innovation is a very broad concept and refers to several definitions, with no industry standard or validated “certification”. This concept presents a huge variability between industries, and even within the company itself. Innovation can be the incorporation of a new technology into a product, a totally new product or service, it can be an innovation in a productive or managerial process, it can be organizational or in a business model. So, what does and what skills should an innovation leader have?

A good way to answer this question is by looking at what companies are looking for and how they specify profiles so that their recruiting agents find professionals in the market. From the analysis of some of these profiles, the following common characteristics are identified.

The profile of an innovation leader: key characteristics

The innovation leader must be able to translate his company’s strategic challenges into building a portfolio of innovation projects and initiatives. At the same time, you must be able to feed your company’s strategy formulation with information about trends and changes in the external environment. In this sense, activities such as defining the scope of technological development projects, evaluating intellectual property and monitoring scientific development are essential for this leader.

A successful innovation leader will be a highly flexible and adaptable executive, capable of generating sustainable value and business growth. He will create and implement existing best practices for a holistic approach to innovation. He must be able to create or integrate with ecosystems to transform innovation opportunities into business.

To achieve all of this, certain leadership traits are essential. Technical knowledge and good business vision, combined with the ability to apply techniques and tools are fundamental characteristics. It is also desirable to have agility in learning, as a tireless and versatile learner, open to changes and assimilating knowledge from successes and failures. Appreciation of challenges and strategic agility are other strengths.

Leaders in innovation must be able to co-create the future and anticipate trends. Articulately, it must work with clear and

executing short, medium and long term plans. This professional should provide your organization with the critical thinking necessary to determine the approaches that best suit each challenge, judge which creative ideas and suggestions might work and which might not.

But above all , an innovation leader must be action-oriented, like to work hard and be full of energy, exceeding goals.

successfully and stimulating themselves and others, always looking for better results. All this with integrity and inspiring confidence,

without hesitating to admit mistakes and speak the truth.

How to become a successful innovation leader

Becoming an innovation leader doesn’t happen overnight. It requires training, experience and a lot of dedication. the traditional courses

are not enough to form leaders in innovation. Specific training is required, which allows an applied understanding of

business, combined with a personal repertoire of skills, tools and processes, which includes an understanding of various business models, propositions and operations.

The leader in innovation is not a super professional on whom the company depends to innovate, but a person who combines good training with distinct personal characteristics capable of stimulating others to innovate.

It is necessary to invest more and more in courses capable of providing potential leaders in innovation with access to the tools and knowledge necessary to achieve success in this path.

Ambidextrous Leadership: Standing Out in the Innovation Ecosystem

In the midst of this whole scenario, the concept of Ambidextrous Leaders arises , professionals who deliver results both in the face of known situations and in the face of uncertainty, who are capable of innovating and undertaking whenever there is an opportunity . These professionals positively impact organizations and the environments in which they operate when changes are required.

In other words, Ambidextrous Leaders incorporate knowledge and skills of innovation and entrepreneurship into their executive training in their short, medium and long term horizons, applying them in their personal development journeys, their business and organizational routines