Note to self: It’s not all about me

Fans may lament the passing of Steve Jobs but his legacy for CEOs is more problematic. The late Apple leader was regarded as a genius and visionary yet he wasn’t the only innovative trendsetter in the computing space, argues Jeffrey Phillips, author of Relentless Innovation. Phillips says it’s a myth that individual, innovative leadership accounts for the majority of a firm’s success. Leaders are important, yes, but in many companies with long innovation track records you’d be hard-pressed to name any member of the executive team, he says. Take Target, 3M, or WL Gore, the manufacturer of Gore-Tex that’s used in a range of outdoor gear. “The company has sought and found numerous uses for its PFTE polymer, creating dental floss, coatings for guitar strings, medical devices and other applications,” Phillips says. “Gore is also an innovator in organisational structure, (which is) exceptionally flat with no formal reporting hierarchies or organisational charts – its CEO was actually elected by its employees. Innovation at the company is therefore driven not by a single visionary CEO, but by the individuals and teams throughout the business.” Recent research by leadership development firm, DDI, indicates that there’s still some way to go in embedding innovation-building behaviours in many organisations. “Leaders need to be innovative, but much of the onus for driving innovation lies with the organisations for which they work,” say researchers Evan Sinair, Richard Wellins and Chris Pacione. Their survey of more than 1,000 CEOs and senior executives shows a serious gap between CEOs’ and others’ perceptions about innovation performance. “Predictably, cultures that are strong on innovation include leaders who rate themselves – or who are rated by their employees – highly, too,” they say. Less predictable: how quickly the gap closed between leader and employee perceptions at higher levels of commitment. “Clearly, the overall organisation attitude toward innovation is a crucial factor,” the researchers say. “As senior leaders and corporate strategies present a compelling vision of innovation, alignment soars between leaders at all levels, and employees.”

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