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Leading for Innovation

Mohammad Haris Minai, Shailendra Singh, and Arup Varma


Innovation is critical for organizations to not only thrive but survive in the competitive, ever-changing environment facing them (Dess & Picken, 2000; Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002). Globalization, the rapid changes in production technology, new consumer expectations, and increased rate of technological change have created conditions such that value is produced primarily by creativity and innovation in organizations (Florida, 2002) . In such volatile environments, innovation is a critical ingredient by which organizations can gain and sustain a competitive advantage (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2010). Earlier thought to be the domain

M.H. Minai (h) • S. Singh

Indian Institute of Management Lucknow, Lucknow, India A. Varma

Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA © The Author(s) 2017

S. Kundu, S. Munjal (eds.), Human Capital and Innovation, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-5656l-7_3

of smaller organizations, larger organizations are also now embracing the chaos that accompanies innovation (Quinn, 1985).

Organizations depend upon their human capital for the generation and implementation of new and useful ideas (Amabile, 1988; Scott & Bruce, 1994). Indeed, individual innovation is the cornerstone of several well-known management principles such as Total Quality Management (TQM), Kaizen, and organizational learning. Even within organizational literature, there is an appreciation of the role that individuals play in making organizations respond to the challenge of addressing both exploration and exploitation (Birkinshaw & Gibson, 2004). Though proper management is essential to increase the likelihood of success of a single innovation, an individual is usually the source of each new idea that results in innovation (Mumford, 2000).

Innovation at the individual and team level, where both the generation and initial prototype is developed by a single individual or a team, is contextually embedded (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993), and leadership is one of the most important contextual influences on innovative behaviours of employees (Mumford, Scott, Gaddis, & Strange, 2002; Oldham & Cummings, 1996). In fact, when supervisors are able to create a work environment conducive to innovation, even employees lacking a natural inclination may engage in innovative behaviours (Zhou & Hoever, 2014).

Ironically, the research on leading for innovation has often been criticized for not garnering its fair share of attention (Byrne, Mumford, Barrett, & Vessey, 2009). Though there have been some efforts to do so, as evidenced by the two part special issue on leading for innovation (Mumford & Licuanan, 2004), a clear view on how leaders influence the process of individual and team innovation is far from clear. The findings of the relationship between leadership and innovation have been inconsistent (Mumford et al., 2002; Rosing, Frese, & Bausch, 2011). Rosing et al. (2011), in a meta-analytic review of the relationship between leadership and innovation, have found that only transformational leadership and leader member-exchange (LMX) have been consistently found to have a positive relationship with innovation and the relationship with transformational leadership is also highly heterogeneous. Transformational leadership has been the most highly studied form of leadership for innovation and the findings suggest that it “... is not necessarily related to innovation under all circumstances, but some specific conditions need to be met” (Rosing, 2011). They suggest that current models of innovation do not adequately capture the role of leadership in the innovation process, as current models assume innovation to be a single “type” of activity and current evidence is against this conceptualization (Axtell et al., 2000; Caniёls, De Stobbeleir, & De Clippeleer, 2014) leading to calls for greater research on the links between leadership and innovation (Anderson, Potocnik, & Zhou, 2014).

Mainemelis, Kark, and Epitropaki (2015) have suggested that creative leadership can be broadly categorized as facilitating, directing, and integrating. The facilitating manifestation of creative leadership focuses on a leader’s role in fostering creativity in others (primarily in the team and individuals they lead) within an organizational context, the directing creative leadership refers to the materialization of a leader’s creative vision through the work of other people, while the integrating manifestation is conceptualized as the role of a leader in synthesizing their creative work with that of others. They further suggest that the facilitating manifestation is mainly based on the following three mainstream theories of creative behaviour: Amabile’s (1988) componential model, Woodman et al.’s (1993) interactionist perspective, and Ford’s (1996) theory of individual creative action.

The componential model of creativity (Amabile, 1988) allows for a motivational role of contextual factors. For the case of leadership, if leadership results in an increased intrinsic motivation, creative behaviours are expected to increase and vice versa for leadership that reduces intrinsic motivation. The interactionist perspective (Woodman & Schoenfeldt, 1990) of creative behaviour allows for more complex interplay between individual characteristics and the context, but does not provide specific directions on whether a certain behaviour would foster or hinder innovative behaviour. Ford’s model of individual creative action (Ford, 1996) posits sense making by the employee as the mediator between leadership behaviours and the decision to undertake creative behaviour. All these approaches suggest that supportive leadership would have a positive impact on innovative behaviours via influence on the work environment (Amabile, Schatzel, Moneta, & Kramer, 2004). Support by the leader could be in the form of direct assistance, development of subordinate expertise, and enhancement of intrinsic motivation. Taking the compo- nential model as a foundation, Amabile et al. (2004) found evidence for the role of subordinate perception of their environment, in particular the role of leader behaviours and its subsequent impact on the creativity of the subordinate. They, however, decry the lack of holistic views of how patterns of leader behaviour might impact subordinate creativity over time.

Rosing et al. (2011) on the other hand posit that the crucial feature of leading for innovation is the fostering of either explorative or exploitative behaviours in subordinates, the combination of which results in innovative behaviour. They frame ambidextrous leadership as the ability by a leader to demonstrate both behaviours that foster exploratory activities and behaviours that foster exploitative activities in their subordinates as well as switching between these two behaviours. Their model is based on a dialectical perspective on innovation (Bledow, Frese, Anderson, Erez, & Farr, 2009a, 2009b). This view is based on the understanding that innovation is composed of paradoxes and the resolution, synthesis, and integration of these paradoxes is what results in innovation. Therefore, it is useful to separate the components of innovative behaviour into those that foster exploration and those that foster exploitation and look for their antecedents independently, but jointly, as the presence of both these behaviours is essential for innovation to occur. Though Rosing et al. (2011) accept that motivation is an important antecedent of innovative behaviour, their theory concentrates on the specific activities of followers.

In this chapter, we try to build some degree of consensus about the relationship of leadership behaviours and individual innovation, by using a dialectical perspective on innovation (Bledow et al., 2009a), and incorporating the role of motivation and leader support that has received extensive evidence in literature (e.g. Eisenbeiss, van Knippenberg, & Boerner, 2008; Oldham & Cummings, 1996). We also address the possible substitution of leader behaviours by subordinate traits and integrate the decision-making concept from the theory of individual creative action (Ford, 1996). We couch our overall discussion in the context of global?ization, since globalization and innovation are strongly inter-related, as demonstrated by the experience of countries like China (see Zhang & Roelfsema, 2014) and India (e.g. Jha & Krishnan, 2013).

Finally, we build testable propositions about the role of various established leader behaviours (Yukl, 2012a) in fostering innovative behaviour in the context of individuals and small teams.

This work is pertinent as a new look on leadership for innovation is required (Anderson, de Drew, & Nijstad, 2004), and studies examining exploration and exploitation at the microlevel are relatively scant (Gupta, Smith, & Shalley, 2006). Finally, we also answer the call for new models specifying how leadership influence tactics operate during both idea generation and implementation (Mumford & Licuanan, 2004; Yukl, 2009).

In the following sections, we discuss globalization, and how it affects innovation. This is followed by a discussion of innovation and the arguments for considering its paradoxical nature, whereby we also address the phases of innovation and how these phases differ from each other. We also look at the literature on how leadership influences innovative behaviour. Following this, we look at the current findings on leadership and innovation and we bring focus to those findings that inform our propositions. Subsequently, we elaborate on three approaches that leaders take to encourage innovative behaviour; the developmental approach, the ambidextrous approach, and the motivational approach. We finally conclude with a discussion on the contributions, limitations, and avenues for further research.

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