#551  Innovative Leader     Volume 11, Number 4        April 2002

Principles of Innovative Leadership
by Donna C. L. Prestwood and Paul A. Schumann Jr.

Ms. Prestwood and Mr. Schumann Jr. are co-founders of the consulting firm Glocal Vantage, Inc., Austin, Texas; info@glocalvantage.com; http://www.glocalvantage.com .

Innovative organizations require leadership development within individuals.

Leadership is now a state of mind, not a position. In this highly interactive age, we will increasingly find ourselves in situations that demand the exercise of our innate capability to lead. It is imperative that each of us brings up the leader within us. We must all develop our leadership capability to its fullest in order for our organizations and institutions to be innovative. The path to leadership is one of personal growth. Bringing up the leader within requires an understanding of seven principles of leadership.

1. Know who you are.

"Who are you?" the caterpillar asked Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. We are now confronted with this same question. Making the decision to answer this question is the beginning of the journey to becoming a leader. We must understand what we know and what we don't know about ourselves. We must assess our resistance to and tolerance for change, our fears, our preferences, and our skills and abilities.

2. Let go of what you've got hold of.

In the Industrial Age, the first rule of "wing walking" was applied: Don't let go of what you've got hold of until you've got hold of something else. In this age, progress cannot be made until you let go of what you've got hold of. We must discover the chains that bind us to our past and prevent us from understanding who we really are. Once we understand the chains that bind us, we must let go of them. Letting go puts us on the path to new experiences, from which we gain more understanding of who we are. Letting go allows us to become responsible for our own actions and future.

3. Learn your purpose.

Each one of us has a purpose. Not all of us under­stand what our purpose is. Even those of us who think they understand their purpose probably only have a glimmer of what their true purpose is. But if we define our purpose too soon, we may limit what we can ac­complish with our life. We learn our purpose through lifelong introspection coupled with interaction with oth­ers. It is also important that we develop habits of mind that allow us to filter through interactions and choose the positive ones. Habits of mind are developed from values that we have. Values propel us along the path to discovering our unfolding purpose. As we discover more of our purpose, we can decide to change our values, allowing us to continue our lifelong process of learning.

4. Live in the question.

In the Industrial Age, we learned to analyze a situa­tion, isolate the problem, and administer a quick fix. In this age, we must recognize that every­thing is tied to everything else. Therefore, we must live in the question long enough to understand the relation­ships important to a systems solution. The temptation in dealing with the Apollo 13 accident was to turn the spacecraft around and fire the engine as soon as the magnitude of the problem was known. The flight director avoided the quick solution and instead asked his team to "live in the question" for three days, relying on their capabilities to get the astro­nauts home safely. As it turned out, the quick solution would have been a deadly one, since the engine was damaged. Flexibility is required so that we can be open to the potential of the unknown.

5. Learn the art of  "barn raising."

"Barn raising" is a tradition of the pioneer culture where people came together to help someone build a barn. Individuals applied their talents, teams were formed to accomplish specific tasks, and a community was developed in the process. Today's emphasis on teamwork recognizes this basic need to work with and through others. A shared purpose motivates individuals to contribute their energy, skills, and abilities.

6. Give "it" away.

A paradox of life is that the more we try to hold on to something, the more likely we are to lose it. Viewing people as abundant, renewable resources and giving away authority allows the full power of individuals to be realized. The potential of teams and organizations can likewise be multiplied. This is accomplished through ennobling, enabling, empowering, and encour­aging others and ourselves. Empowerment fails if it is attempted without ennoblement and enablement first. And it will fail if people are not encouraged to learn from their mistakes. We must relentlessly pursue the re­lease of authority and control.

7. Let the magic happen.

The final principle of leadership is to let go of the demands of our ego. We must become a member of the team and utilize our abilities ‑ joining in the shared purpose ‑ to help the team achieve its maximum potential. There are always three choices ‑ lead, follow, or get out of the way. The wisdom of leadership in this age is to know which action to choose for each situation.

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