Innovation: Best Practice for Product Leaders

BY SALMA EL SHURAFA ON FEBRUARY 13, 2017

In a world where the pace of change is constantly increasing and becoming more complex, can you really afford to stay still?

Living and working in the United Arab Emirates, with its blindingly rich cities and unbelievably luxe lifestyles, I see that the value of innovation is obvious. After all, how does this crazy-wealthy region plan for the future? By investing in innovation as a matter of both visionary thinking and as a survival tactic.

Other Arab nations may have simply banked on their rich oil reserves, but Abu Dhabi and Dubai diversified to international tourism, business conferences and global trade. The government launched a National Innovation Strategy, a seven-year plan developed to make the UAE among the most innovative nations in the world. Innovation is seen as key to meaningful social and economic development in the region. According to UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum: “The competitiveness race demands a constant flow of new ideas, as well as innovative leadership using different methods and tools to direct the change.”

You don’t have to be a national leader to weigh up the challenge and opportunities of innovative thinking and doing. Project managers and business leaders are increasingly seeing innovation as an absolute need and not just a nice add-on.

But change – which is inevitable with innovation – is never easy. How can project managers and leaders make innovation integral to their corporate ecosystem? Based on our coaching work, the following are some leadership best practices that can help strengthen a team’s capacity for innovation, which is a non-negotiable in effective product management today.

You are a Change Instigator

Innovative leadership means making it your duty to act proactively as opposed to simply reacting to events. This approach is not sustainable, no matter how correct or smart your responses may be. In this uncertain world, merely being great at adapting to change is not sufficient anymore. Instead, you want to be able to shape the future so you can lead and create that change.

You Champion Collaboration

Even the most creative ideas won’t pave the way to innovation when it’s being driven only by an individual or two. For innovation to happen, the entire team must work together with a common direction and sense of purpose. And this is possible only when the leader knows how to establish the spirit of collaboration and cooperation rather than individual competition.

You Strive for a Strategic and Purposeful Approach

Change per se is meaningless if it lacks purpose and direction. Many make the mistake that if they are liberal and open to new ideas, then they’re already being innovative. But innovation requires strategy and a system. One solid solution that is aligned with your overarching objectives and relevant to your project or business as a whole is better than a number of brilliant but random ideas.

You Value Diversity

Innovative leaders don’t just accept or embrace diversity; they understand its great value. After all, the workforce today has become more diverse in generation, location, culture and beliefs than any other time in history. Having varied perspectives in your team is a huge challenge, but also one of your greatest assets for building innovation. If you know how to establish unified and collaborative work behaviours amidst diversity, then your team is all set for the future.

You Work to Sharpen Your Self-Awareness

As clichéd as it may sound, it really and truly all starts with you. How can you instil the significance of change and failure when your employees see your aversion to risk and fear of failure? How can people grow and work together on their ideas if they don’t have the time, space and resources to do it?

Taking the Leap

Admittedly, it’s incredibly hard – even the most courageous leader will have hesitations and misgivings whenever they take a leap toward something new and untested, no matter how promising it may be.

When you’re in charge of a project (or an entire business venture), you’re not just in charge of a mission. You’re in charge of people. Your people. The more you care about their development, careers and livelihood, the more it can be unnerving to drive them toward unpaved paths, which is what innovation needs you to do. And that’s where the value of self-awareness comes in. When you have a solid sense of self and clarity in your purpose, taking a leap doesn’t just become less scary. The act also makes much more sense and meaning.

About SALMA EL SHURAFA

Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program. Salma is the first Arab female faculty member of CTI in the region, a certified Agile profile coach and trainer as well as a Cultural Intelligence Certified Advanced Facilitator. She works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging from directors and managers at Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs across various industries, and other professionals.

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