November 19, 2023

How to Implement Innovation Leadership: Expert’s 2 Advice

implement innovation leadership

Innovation Leadership may seem difficult to implement for managers, as employees are afraid of failure and thus, disappointing their boss. A stubborn management challenge, managers can motivate innovation by establishing mutual trust with workers over time, and guide them towards decision-making based on Mission-Vision-Values (MVV). Crossroads offers Management Training that can help managers in this predicament.

Innovation Leadership Challenge: The Fear of Failure

During the Innovation and Leadership training in my MBA classes, my students often tell me the theory does not always translate well to real life in Vietnamese businesses. One student offered a clear summation of why Innovation Leadership does not work for them:

“The word ‘Innovation’ sounds like lovely fruit, but the taste of failure is very bitter.”

Jungchan Kim, 2021

In fact, the fear of failure is one of the most common barriers to developing an innovation culture within organizations. This is a stubborn management challenge: While the leaders state they are prepared to take risks, their workers seldom offer their own ideas for change. Put simply, workers feel it is not worth the risk to speak up, and they will wait until the boss tells them what to do.

How Leaders Can Encourage Innovation: Trust and MVV

Have you ever tried to convince your workforce that they should take that risk and speak up? A truly innovation business culture requires both leaders and staff to trust each other. It is the leader’s responsibility to build this two-way trust and motivate workers over time.

Trust is built by clarifying mutually understood expectations, and then living up to those expectations from both sides. In a business, the clearest communication for these expectations is in Mission, Vision, and Values (MVV). When the leaders “live” MVV and communicate that actions and decisions should be based on MVV, then both sides should understand what is expected.

Leaders can encourage workers to make good decisions by referring to MVV when responding to questions about what should be done. A leader can ask: “What do you think we should do based on our MVV?” This takes a lot of time on the part of the leader, but the payoff will come when workers start to buy into it. The goal should be for workers to come to you with a proposal based on MVV, and then to let you know they made a decision based on MVV. The goal is for workers to make the correct decisions even when the boss is not there.

What happens when a decision later blows up? Review the decision based on MVV and use it as a learning experience. While one worker may have made a mistake, others will see that it is still worth taking the chance. Sometimes the right decision is made, and things still blow up. If your workers see that you do not blow up when “life” happens, they will gain trust in you and be more willing to take risks in the future.

One important step is to verify the Mission, Vision, and Values are clearly understood and accepted by the staff. Too often MVV statements are simply something written on the company website because, of course, a company “must” have MVV statements. It does no good for top management to author MVV statements without input from employees. Buy-in is essential and your employees may actually surprise you with what they value and why they believe their jobs are important. If you haven’t reviewed your MVV lately, a workshop can facilitate real discussion and get your staff in true alignment.

By Dr. Bob Connolly, General Director, Crossroads Vietnam Co, Ltd.

Here at Crossroads Vietnam, we provide Leadership and Management solutions to businesses, in the form of Consulting, Workshops, and Leadership Coaching services. Our industry experts, with 18+ years of working and teaching experience, will help you apply the best Leadership and Management Principles for Innovation and Mission – Vision – Values to your business. Book a meeting with us here: