Innovation: 6 Work Styles and Implications for Leadership

Across many industries and in many organizations, innovation has become a hot commodity.

There are also compelling connections between innovation and leadership. Research conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman and reported in a recent Harvard Business Review article identified 19 different capabilities that distinguish excellent leaders from average or poor leaders. Innovation — or the ability to innovate — was one of those capabilities. For more, read Arden Coaching’s “What Does it Mean to be a Better Leader?”

If innovation is an important leadership trait and a valued, employable skill, how does your personality and work style dovetail with innovation and leadership? How can you make an approach to innovation work for your personality and work style to evolve your leadership skills?

In Harvard Business Review’s “What Kind of Chief Innovation Officer Does Your Company Need?” The authors identify six types of Chief Innovation Officers. Let’s use their labels and look at what kind of personality and work style is embedded in each.

“The Advocate.” The advocate loves big ideas and big goals. They tend to be customer-oriented and rely on their gut and experience to come up with the “next big thing” for products, services, and customer experiences. They also enjoy fast-paced environments and are at their best when innovative ideas can be implemented quickly, seeing immediate results.

“The Engineer.” The engineer is an action-oriented innovator. They want to adapt and evolve what is doable in the near-term. They enjoy working in an iterative environment where things are tried, assessed, modified, and tried again. Engineers are hands-on, “let’s work on this now,” workers and leaders.

“The Investor.” The investor is bottom line-oriented, analytical, and tends to be a driven worker. Innovation is not pursued for the sheer joy of it, it’s seen as a way to make big changes in an organization or an industry. A bit impatient, investors like fast-paced environments — but they are strategic. They thrive at making sense of complicated and sometimes contradictory information and moving forward with a decision.

“The Motivator.” The motivator is passionate about developing a vision — a narrative for a new way — and works to get people, organizational culture, and resources aligned to make innovation happen. They are driven by stories, people, and creativity. They build greenhouses where innovation can germinate and grow.

“The Organizer.” The organizer is about process, method, and metrics. They are the drivers of the innovation bus — following the map, dealing with engine breakdowns, stopping for gas, and arriving at the organization’s destination on time. They enjoy coordinating and managing people and systems to keep things on track.

“The Researcher.” The researcher is logical and unemotional, driven by data and analysis. When it comes to innovation, they enjoy working with ideas and concepts, and are proponents of the scientific method in their approach. They tend to be patient and focused on the long-term.

Different industries and different organizational cultures value different types of innovation styles. The “researcher” may be deemed a plodder in a new, fast-paced industry or company. The “advocate” might be labeled a starry-eyed rabble-rouser in a well-established industry or a company with long R&D lead times.

Do you see yourself in one of these types? Which suits your style and personality best? If you are not sure, you are not alone. 

“It’s incredibly difficult to look in the mirror and accurately breakdown our own strengths, and weaknesses,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “So it’s completely understandable that someone might want to improve their innovation skills and leadership skills and not know where to start.”

Executive coaches help their clients understand their pattens of thinking and behavior, identify opportunities to change and improve skills, maximize leadership capabilities — such as innovation — in a way that best works for them, and create a concrete plan of action.

Perry adds, “A particular leadership trait can’t simply be grafted on to your personality or work style. And there is no one-size-fits-all. The question is, how does a leadership characteristic like ‘innovation’ look, feel, and function for you? Executive coaches can assist leaders in identifying their default preference for a particular style and assist them in learning new ways of acting, or appreciating the expertise of other styles, in order to serve the organizational needs. We help leaders bridge any gaps between their default style and the leader the organization needs them to be to be the most effective.”

To learn more about how executive coaching can help you identify and shape your leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.


“What Does it Mean to be a Better Leader?”

Arden Coaching

Executive coaches

[email protected] – general email address