Bringing innovation to life anywhere in the organization requires the following five key values which are essential for values for both Leadership and Innovation:

  • Integrity – Doing what you say you’ll do.
  • Tenacity – Persistently and doggedly pursuing an option or solution until it succeeds and/or others see the brilliance of it.
  • Courage – Being brave about pursuing options that are risky, novel, or untried.
  • Curiosity – Being interested in new ways of doing things, unusual approaches, or things that are outside of your area of expertise. Consciously not knowing the answer, and seeking new ones instead. Consciously learning.
  • Humility – Recognizing that ideas can come from other people, a willingness to change your mind, being able to admit mistakes when you make them, and being willing to learn from the mistakes of others, rather than punishing them.

We list them in the order above because it makes the unfortunate acronym ITCCH.  We cover Integrity in this series of newsletters last, but certainly not least.  Rather, we explore Integrity last because by its very nature, the other values rest within it. As an Innovation Leader we need to have unshakable integrity.  And that means being true to the values of Tenacity, Courage, Curiosity, and Humility.

A question of Integrity

The critical questions of integrity are, “Am I behaving congruently with my values and the values of innovation leadership?”  “Am I measuring up to these fundamentals?” (WARNING: If you get an instant answer of “yes, of course, 100%,” then you may wish to go back and re-read the article on humility that started this series)

If however you notice a slight bit of discomfort with yourself in response to the integrity question…if you notice a bit of an itch in your moral fiber…good! Now you’ve got some awareness of where you need to scratch to sniff out the personal development need beneath the surface that you’re presenting to the world. And that is the work of the ever evolving innovation leader. Scratching at their ITCCH. Fortunately, cortisone doesn’t cure this one; it’s a lifelong condition…we hope!

So what is Integrity?

We asked our colleagues what integrity meant to them. They said that a person demonstrating the value of integrity is someone who:

  • Is honest
  • Stands up for what they believe in
  • Knows who they are
  • Is steadfast
  • Willing to make tough — even unpopular — decisions
  • Courageous in conflict
  • Does what they say
  • Considers what’s best for the group rather than what’s best for themselves
  • You can count on
  • Who keeps their promises
  • You can really trust to do the right thing
  • Walks their talk

Refreshingly, in the tone of their voice it was clear that integrity was a virtue they admired and aspired to.

What does this have to do with Innovation Leadership?

From an innovation perspective, a leader who has integrity with the values of tenacity, curiosity, courage and humility is well-positioned to explore and exploit new ideas. By actively living these values they end up more willing and able to suspend their first judgment of others’ ideas and are more open so they can encourage and support others. They are less afraid to make mistakes themselves and to model this for others. They are more accepting of others’ (well-intentioned) mistakes. They are more able and willing to candidly express what they think and feel and to take action on them.

In other words, integrity is essential for innovation because it is critical for demonstrating to the people around you in the organization that you mean what you say about searching for innovation.  Imagine the manager who asks for innovation yet punishes people for a) making mistakes, b) taking risks, c) challenging the status quo, or d) trying things outside “the system.”  Certainly in some cases, these four things might be a bad idea, but in the quest for innovation they are inevitable and indeed, necessary.  So when those actions are punished, the conclusion that emerges is, “sure s/he says they want innovation, but their actions say otherwise.”

“What you are stands over you and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tying the five values together

It’s not surprising that innovators are drawn to people who demonstrate integrity with the other four key values. Courageous, curious, tenacious and humble are qualities that true creative thinkers aspire to become. The leaders we are most drawn to over the long haul are those who authentically live these values. It’s more than skin deep. How admired leaders come across — their demeanor, their way of presenting themselves, their questions and ideas and the congruence of their words and deeds — is a big part of their attraction. So in the quest to become an Innovation Leader, work on intention and presentation. This is easiest and most effective when intention and presentation are one and the same. And that takes practice in humility, curiosity, courage and tenacity and integrity to their core beliefs.

This is one of life’s greatest challenges. Think of the many stories we have of people who fail to practice and live up to their (stated) beliefs. Most of the jokes on late night talk shows are jabs at the disconnect between what “leaders” and other “heroes” say compared with what they actually do. We quickly become cynical about leaders whose talk doesn’t align with their actions. In our cynical society, we tend to look for these disconnects in our leaders as a way to humanize them.  We search for the flaws that would give us pause in trusting them, perhaps as a way to make ourselves feel better or more important. This speaks to the critical nature of humility; by demonstrating and presenting ourselves as fallible humans, it’s safer for others to trust us.

An “Innovation Leader” example of this recently appeared in Business Week.  Last year one of Ford’s 30-second television commercials had its Chairman and (former) CEO, Bill Ford, using the word “innovation” eight times. The spot starts with him saying “If you look at the Ford Motor Co., innovation has driven everything we’ve done” and ends with: “Innovation will be the compass that guides this company going forward.”  A year later, after a year of huge losses, Ford is no longer talking about Innovation as a core value. This is a good example of the common disconnect we see in today’s market place between talking the talk of innovation but not truly knowing what drives it.

The Challenge of Integrity

We all are faced with challenges of staying in integrity.  Everyday we face small and large choices in saying and doing what is right for our particular situation. There are not always easy answers and unfortunately, we are wired to easily rationalize our decisions – we delude ourselves after the fact to believing we were demonstrating integrity.

Example: A new manager working on a deep ocean oil rig had responsibility for deciding when the weather was too dangerous for his undersea diving crew to stay on the bottom doing their work. His boss was a famous achiever and had implied the manager would receive great recognition and other rewards for exceeding production milestones. A huge ocean storm was brewing. What should he do? In the end he left the crew down until the storm was way too close. Only through sheer luck did the crew make it out of the water alive. Reflecting on the events afterwards, this manager saw that he put his own interests before his men. He had enough honesty with himself to not rationalize the decision (“it all worked out for the best…I made the right decision!”), so he received a life lesson which he used to change his future behaviors as an innovation leader. How might he have been in integrity with curiosity and courage to both take care of his team and achieve the production targets? Constantly asking oneself these kind of questions is the behavior of the Innovation Leader.

As leaders we are all faced with these kinds of leadership dilemmas:

  • Do I focus more on safety or efficiency?
  • How much can I cut costs here and still provide a quality safe process or product?
  • Should I layoff people for the sake of profits or survival?
  • Can I bet the future of the company on a new approach?
  • Should we abandon what’s always worked in the past to change with the times?

As innovation leaders we are challenged to find the right solution. The ideal is to ask “How might we avoid “either/or” solutions and find ways to do “both/and” answers?” By adopting a curious, courageous, tenacious and humble mindset we are more apt to find the right questions to spark innovative solutions.  And integrity to these values, and to core beliefs in what is right, will help us know when we’ve found the best answer.

“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. If you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
— Warren Buffett, CEO Berkshire Hathaway

So how do you develop your Integrity?

  • Start first with you. What do you believe in? What do you believe is right and wrong? What is meaningful to you? These values and beliefs form the foundation for our thoughts, which are expressed in our words, our attitudes and ultimately in our actions. Take time to write down the beliefs that drive you, those personal values that you care enough about to cause you to speak out and take action. If you don’t know where you stand, others will tell you, which makes you vulnerable to mistakes — like the oil rig manager.
  • Make time to reflect on your actions. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Exercise away from the TV or iPod. Practice yoga or Tai Chi. Meditate. Wash a ton of dishes. Chop some wood. Paint a wall. Do any activity that will give your mind a break from the incessant thought feed. The challenge is to actually stop list-making, day-dreaming, fantasizing about the future or replaying something from the past while doing these activities. This is about being in the present moment. It is during these deliberate incubation periods that our struggles with integrity to our cherished values tend to naturally show up. As Herbert Benson says in his book “The Breakout Principle,”  this is also where our best ideas for complex unsolved problems often emerge. Write down what you discover about your self or share it with a partner or friend to give it greater stickiness.

Want help uncovering your values?

We’ve got a simple worksheet to help you walk through the process of uncovering your values. Contact us and we’ll email it right out to you! Best of all, it’s FREE! So whether or not one of your values is “financial security”, you’ll love this!

  • The Golden Rule is a good start; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But what if someone doesn’t want what you want? Perhaps trade up to Tony Alessandra’s Platinum Rule, “do unto others as they would have you do unto them,” which puts the other person first.  The focus of relationships shifts from “this is what I want, so I’ll give everyone the same thing” to “let me first understand what the other person wants and then I’ll give it to them.” How might you use the Platinum Rule to stay in integrity, curious, courageous, tenacious and humble?
  • Ask others for feedback. Ask people you trust to give you honest feedback. Surround yourself with “integrinators,” people who will call you on behaviors and verbalizations inconsistent with your stated beliefs. Ask your boss, peers and direct reports for an Innovation Leader audit, a 360 assessment about your integrity, curiosity, courage, tenacity, and humility. Great leaders ask for feedback often and act on it (without rationalization).
  • In your organization, how might you encourage the retelling of stories of people staying in integrity with these values under stress, systematically building an Innovation Leadership culture? How might we replace commiserating about “ain’t it awful that…” with “what’s going right?” or “isn’t it great that…”
  • One of the ways many of us get in trouble staying in integrity has to do with our desire to please ourselves and others. We make more promises and commitments than we can deliver on. So how might you pause before saying yes to that request? Take a moment to take stock on whether you are really committed to and can really deliver what is being asked for. How might you become known as someone who under- promises and over-delivers?

The bottom line: The world needs more great leaders. This is your time. Step up. Be the leader the world needs. Join the corps of innovation leaders who are working to solve the complex problems that humans face (and create). We need you. Today.

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