How innovation works and how to lead it

Anand P Gaikwad, Senior Manager, ITSP2 Global Program Management at Volkswagen IT Services India NEXT100 Winner 2017, talks about how leadership is an art of shaping people and transforming each team member to become the future leader

How innovation works and how to lead it - IT Next

In 1978, Transformational Leadership was introduced by expert, James McGregor Burns, in his book “Leadership”.

Leadership is not about controlling people but inspiring them to perform well and encourage them to think out of the box, make mistakes, and learn from them

He explained it as a process where followers of a leader are developed to the higher levels of morality and motivation. In the same context, I would like to submit my perspective about leadership and opportunities for innovation.


What is Leadership?

“Leadership is a combination of art and science; it is an attitude to make people work better than they would have been, without you,” - this certainly does not mean that you perform micro-management or sit on someone’s head to make them work better rather to build an attitude to deliver their best. If you are a leader with power, you can easily control people but this will lead to failure.

Leadership is not about controlling people but inspiring them to perform well and encourage them to think out of the box, make mistakes, and learn from them. Delegation is one of the most important aspects of leadership. If true leaders think in terms of developing the people they are leading, they delegate. This also helps discover new perspectives of a team member and motivate him/her to hone their potential.


The Inside Out Approach

I would like to give a reference of the “Golden Circle” explained by Simon Sinek in one of his TEDx talks in September 2009 at Washington D.C in the United States of America.

He gave an apt example to explain how big companies and their exclusive products become successful - just by changing the way they think, and market their products better. In a similar way, leaders can change their approach and adapt the ‘Inside Out Approach’ to be successful in his/her role.

The leaders are influencers but not many of them actually think of why they want to influence people; Do they influence to control, motivate, or lead? By knowing the current issues in the team and identifying the opportunities, he/she can very well define “WHY”.

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do what they do. This isn’t about making money – that’s a result. WHY is all about your purpose, cause or belief. WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed in the morning? And WHY should anyone care?

“If the leader knows the objective of his actions, he/she can be a positive leader.”

As a leader, one should always look for the opportunities to develop the team and self to strengthen the delivery and keep the team spirit up. There is always a scope for the leader to improve; it is just a matter to understand why there is an opportunity and what needs to be changed.

Once the leader knows why, the next thing is to delimit “HOW”, once the problems are known and the opportunities are identified, then leaders must outline how to tie the loose ends and handle the situation.

HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do what they do. Whether you call them a ‘’differentiating value proposition’’ or ‘’unique selling proposition,’’ HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Not as obvious as WHATs , and many think these are the differentiating or motivating factors in a decision. It would be false to assume that’s all that is required.

This could be another important factor of situational leadership where the leader has to show the dynamics of his/her skills and solve the problem without hurting the moral, sentiments, and motivation of the team.

A proven example of this is the ‘Gamification’ concept that I introduced in one of the organizations I worked to handle a similar situation. It is crucial to identify the loose ends and the corresponding opportunities and then define the HOW, so the sentiments of the team are skillfully handled. Do not touch the moral aspect and keep your team motivated just by allowing healthy competition in the team.

Now the WHY and HOW is distinct, it’s a time to do the marketing for your WHAT. It is simply about educating the team on your strategies, purposes and deliverables.

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. This is true no matter how big or small, no matter what industry. Everyone is easily able to describe the products or services a company sells or the job function they have within the system. WHATs are easy to identify.

The strategy is to have the synergy between you and the team. The purpose is to align them and yourself to the organizational goal and altogether create an inspiring vision for the future.


Innovation in Leadership

Using innovation in leadership can positively improve the perception of the leader and it improves the collaboration and the efficiency, I believe this is the best way to state the thin line between efficiency and effectiveness.

It is not only to improve the results but also to build the design thinking culture in the organization. Getting the team united with your inspiring vision is essential for future viability.


Develop Innovative Behavior to Lead & Personalize

Sometimes the job gets boring and it can lead to demotivation. Personalizing is one of the aspects to keep the teams motivated. For example, the quarterly leadership meet is planned in the boardroom for two days. Instead, move this meeting to a beach and spend quality time with your team in an open environment where all the participants can rejuvenate and have fun. It is extremely crucial to allow your team to unwind and put their mind off the work. This quality time can help them come back to their respective jobs with positive force. This will also elevate the human experience and broaden the scope of the knowledge and understanding in the team.


Source: PwC’s 20th Annual CEO Survey discusses the impact of innovation and technology on business growth


Transformative Play (Gamification)

Routine work such as day-to-day operations is a very inflexible process. Playing a game associated with your objective and well-defined rules always improvises the perfection and unquestionably, your business delivery. This concept certainly has power to deliver the quality service to our customers and build a healthy competition within the team.


Collaborative Thinking

An innovative leader always collaborates. It does not matter if the idea shared is impossible or unrealistic but it creates the opportunity for others to think and come up with possible and realistic ideas. For example, setting up a “Thinkers Club” (The concept of Thinkers Club was in place since 1819 and it was popularized throughout the German Confederation). As an activity, the club members will meet every week on any day for an hour just to “think”, discuss, talk and present the ideas that they think are helpful to build a strong organization and justify the core value of “Innovation”.



Innovative thinking leads to redefine the problem or reframe it. Looking at the problem in a different way gets the required insight. An innovative leader always looks at the issues in a unique way to uncover the hidden sights and experiment on finding possible solutions. It is simply not experimenting but checking how it has yielded the results he/she desired.

The author is Senior Manager, ITSP2 Global Program Management at Volkswagen IT Services India

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