Innovation vs. Leadership

Which is easier to learn: innovation or leadership?   That is one of my favorite questions to ask during  keynotes and workshops, especially to groups of accomplished leaders.  What amazes me is the answer I get back:  overwhelmingly, groups of executives say that leadership is easier to learn than innovation.

I could not disagree more.  I’ve experienced some of the best leadership training in the world starting with the U.S. Air Force Academy and all the way through to Johnson & Johnson’s many leadership training programs.  These programs were complex, psychologically-based, and multi-dimensional.  Leadership training is big business.  The demand is high, and the task is tall.  Executives flood to these programs to learn new insights and nuances of this highly people-based activity.  It is tough to learn leadership.

I learned innovation in a matter of minutes.  The process is clear, rules-based, and rigorous.  Anyone can do it.  When facilitated appropriately, you cannot NOT innovate.  The process forces original, novel, and highly creative ideas to come out of your head.

So why do executives feel that leadership is easier to learn than innovation?  My sense is that many have not been exposed to a bona fide innovation method.  These executives want organic innovation more than anything to drive growth.  Yet many are missing a simple insight what it takes…to invest themselves in learning innovation.  Once executives feel what it’s like to innovate on demand, they get it.  They start thinking about execution, scalability, culture aspects, resources needs, measurement, accountability, strategy, alignment….all the traditional things leaders think about…to move an initiative forward.

GE is perhaps the best example of a company that invests in innovation as much as it does leadership with its Imagination at Work program.  For GE, the question of which is easier to train…innovation or leadership…is moot.  They avoid the “leadership bias,” and they invest appropriately in core innovation skills to drive growth.