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Successful leaders and companies are always trying to become more innovative because advancement changes lives. Even if an organization’s new product isn’t a major advancement, small changes to an existing product can be groundbreaking simply by improving an already successful product.

However, clever products are only part of what innovation is all about in business. Every day, creative leaders help transform the culture of an organization, which allows managers and employees to work together to create products and services.

10 traits of innovative leaders

Harvard Business Review conducted a small study of managers who scored at or above the 99-percentile mark, as measured by their peers, subordinates and bosses on feedback surveys. Then they interviewed each leader, and came up with 10 distinctive behaviors that set this group apart as innovative leaders. These leaders:

1. Display excellent strategic vision

The most successful leaders can vividly describe their vision of the future because, as Forbes noted in an article on traits of innovative leaders, “the future is where innovation always lives, and sometimes that future is a long way off, uncertain, and really hard to forecast.” Managing the present with the future is difficult but necessary.

2.Have a strong customer focus

Leaders are fascinated by the thoughts and needs of customers. Asking question after question and networking with clients offers a way into the customer’s mind.

3. Create a climate of reciprocal trust

Not all fresh ideas are successful, and innovative leaders know it. They allow room for error when employees are coming up with ideas, which creates collaborative relationships.

4. Display fearless loyalty to doing what’s right for the organization and customer

Doing the right thing is much more important than pleasing one’s boss or high-level executive.

5. Put their faith in a culture that magnifies upward communication

Some of the best ideas come from the first level of an organization, and forward-thinking leaders are receptive to ideas from all employees.

6. Are persuasive

Instead of pushing ideas onto their teams, innovative leaders are effective in getting others to accept ideas by presenting them with enthusiasm and conviction.

7. Excel at setting stretch goals

Stretch goals require that people go far beyond working harder; they require finding new ways to achieve a high goal.

8. Emphasize speed

Instead of lengthy studies by large committees, leaders prefer experiments and rapid prototypes.

9. Are candid in their communication

Employees with creative leaders know they can count on straight answers. Honest, and even sometimes blunt, feedback is the norm.

10. Inspire and motivate through action

According to one respondent of the survey, “For innovation to exist you have to feel inspired.” Forward-thinking leaders work to be more motivational. This sentiment is reflected in “Five Character Traits of Innovation Leaders” by Forbes. It said innovative leaders are motivated by what can happen for the benefit of others and of their organizations — not what can directly benefit them. This value “has an almost magical impact on outcomes,” including employees, organizations and even the leaders themselves. If leaders act on their personal interests, everyone else will too, resulting in mistrust, fear and an environment that opposes innovation.

Innovative products start with innovative people

Becoming an innovator or executive requires the knowledge, experience and leadership to guide organizations to success. Jefferson’s online innovation MBA helps prepare you for the demands of the modern business world, giving you the insight and skills needed to pursue your career goals. The program offers concentrations in business analytics and strategic design thinking. You can complete your degree in as little as 18-24 months.