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Driving Change: Would You Be A Successful Chief Innovation Officer?

Is the “CInO” title in Your Future? Should it be?

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. —Steve Jobs

Do you think Jobs was talking about companies or people?

After two decades of working with famously innovative people and companies, I believe he was talking about both.

Can you empower next? If you are reading this, you probably are—or aspire to be—an innovation leader who wants responsibility for changing the world in some meaningful way. Maybe you think your company is stuck in the past or see a major inflection point coming for your industry. Perhaps you have decided that it’s time to start something new, to figure out what’s next for you, to transform your company or maybe even your family.

Terrific.

But after observing hundreds of leaders like you navigate around waves of change in their businesses, I can assure you that it’s your mindset—more than anything else—that will determine whether you, and those around you, successfully reach a better place.

So how do you know if leading innovation is right for you (and your organization)? How do you know if you have what it takes to be the chief innovator at your company?

Let me share five common mindsets I’ve seen in leaders—good and bad—and how they deal with change. (I am sure you will identify with at least one.) Two of them are effective in changing organizations for the better. The others almost always lead to disappointing results.

Can you guess the two correct ones? The answers may surprise you.

The Maverick

“I am aggressively committed to thriving in ‘What’s Next.’”

You’ve decided to carry the innovation torch, and you’ll make people feel really uncomfortable if you have to in order to get your organization to break new ground.

You’ve done your homework and are in touch with the growing list of expert and technological resources available to you and plan to use them. Overtly or covertly, with or without your team’s approval, you’re going to fix this company.

The Disrupter

“I believe we must be much, MUCH more agile.”

You want to be quicker to ideate, prototype and launch. You are looking for fast, simple and often linear answers to leapfrog your competitors. You believe politics, fear and entrenched thinking is slowing everyone down. You’re going to fix things by driving your team to move faster to market. “The bullet train is leaving the station, and folks, you’re on it.”

The Orchestrator

“I believe WE can and must change the future together.”

You are a team player. You are committed to preparing and empowering your organization for “what’s next.” You know that together you and your team can make better progress than going it alone, and you can be trusted to drive alignment—that’s why you were picked for this role. You will patiently bring them along, combining new inspiration, new ideas and new processes with the training the team needs.

The Pragmatist

“I believe there is just as big of a downside if we get this wrong.”

You are thoughtful and analytic. You don’t believe you are moving slowly. You simply want proof that a process, a team or a technology really has what it takes to mitigate risk and drive the returns your company must have. You are obligated to making sure the numbers make sense.

The Survivor

“I’ve seen this before. Keep your head low and stay the course.”

You often feel frozen by fear or survival instincts. “Last year was difficult enough and now is not the time for more change or something new. Let’s just get through this.” You tell yourself, “there is a reason that the last person I saw in the innovation job is now unemployed.”

So which two mindsets are the winners? The answer is found in the “new normal.” My friend and advisor Rick Voirin, Chairman of Stagen, LLC and professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, has been tapped by an impressive list of leaders to help prepare their teams for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA). Voirin argues that VUCA is the new normal, and those who thrive in these conditions represent some of our best new leaders.

This lines up to what I’ve seen in Innovationland. Show me a person who is highly skilled and comfortable dealing with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, and I will show you a great innovator.

Which brings us back to the innovation leadership mindsets listed above. There are only two on the list that I’ve seen in every successful CInO: the Maverick and the Orchestrator. They alone embrace Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity with the tenacity, passion and courage it takes to make change happen.

True, the Maverick may leave a wake of hurt feelings, but there is no arguing that he gets things done.

The Orchestrator creates resonance, which takes more time, but in the end she’s usually more effective than the Maverick.

Those are the only two types that I am investing in training for myself and training for fellow leaders.

All the others have an Achilles’ heel that typically leads to failure. The Disrupter takes too many risks too quickly—ironically leading to a lack of patience from those above him on the organizational chart.

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The Survivor is too political and afraid to be trusted by the team. She may be around for a long time but is typically the cancerous part of your DNA that keeps change from happening.

The Pragmatist is often the old world CFO, COO or CEO who has surrounded himself by a group of people fond of telling “good old days” stories while Rome is burning.

The lesson here is pretty simple. Don’t just be a better leader; be an innovation leader. Either prepare yourself to be the Maverick or the Orchestrator, or find one to follow or emulate quickly.

Your world and that of your company will change for the better.

Article originally published Jan. 21, 2014, on Forbes.com

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