What Is Innovative Leadership?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 1, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Working in a leadership role often involves identifying different styles of leadership as you determine how you want to move forward. Applying creativity to your own leadership style can help you create your own unique style that aligns with your goals and the needs of your staff. One leadership style to consider is innovative leadership, which involves creative thinking. In this article, we will discuss innovative leadership and how to apply this style when leading those around you.

What is innovative leadership?

Innovative leadership is a style of leadership that involves applying innovation and creativity to managing people and projects. Innovative leaders often inspire productivity in new ways and through different approaches than have typically been used and taken. The ability to apply innovation is especially important in times of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk, so companies and industries that often encounter such situations can benefit from bringing on innovative and creative leaders.

Another element of innovative leadership is the willingness to consider a different concept or approach, which can be challenging for those who prefer to stick to tried and true methods. You can see innovative individuals who lead several major global companies. One example is Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former CEO of Apple, Inc., who revolutionized the idea of the personal computer and worked closely with staff members on the innovative “Think different” marketing campaign that led to the success of the iTunes and the iMac, iPod and iPhone.

Innovative leaders do not necessarily have to be the people behind all of the creative ideas. They can recognize greatness from their team members and work to develop paths and success from those ideas. What really helps an innovative leader stand out is their willingness to adapt to change, experiment with new concepts and envision the path forward for a creative idea.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Find Your Own)

Skills of innovative leaders

An innovative leader must have certain skills, regardless of the industry in which they work or the team they oversee. Some of the key skills required for innovative leadership include:


The ability to communicate is an essential skill for an innovative leader. These leaders can communicate in all directions, emphasizing the importance of each team member and keeping everyone aware and involved. Innovative leadership also requires the ability to communicate the vision and generate awareness and enthusiasm moving forward.


Using your imagination is a must when applying the innovative style of leadership. You must be able to imagine and envision the future from a simple concept, as well as consider the steps it will take to achieve a particular goal.

Willingness to embrace opportunities

A willingness to embrace new ideas and opportunities is a unique way to approach your work. It is an important skill to become an innovative leader, as it allows you to look for new opportunities and embrace the chance to try them out. This willingness also allows you to see concepts on a larger scale, rather than worrying about the details.


The ability to empathize with others is an important skill across all leadership styles, but in this application, the skill involves empathizing with the end customer or the person who will benefit from the innovative idea being developed. Looking for disconnects between the organization and the target audience allows you to empathize with the audience members' needs and identify ways to improve the offering to better accommodate those needs.

Creative brainstorming

If you think back to your early educational days, you may remember brainstorming ideas as a way to get creative and come up with new concepts. The ability to continue to develop and apply this skill can benefit you as an innovative leader. It is easy to get bogged down with day-to-day tasks, so set aside some time each day to think creatively and write down any ideas you might have. You may also consider making your workplace more conducive to creativity by closing your inbox for several hours each day or adding unique visual cues to the space.


Innovative leaders tend to be efficient workers and motivators, focusing on getting things done.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

How to become an innovative leader

If you want to become an innovative leader and apply the concepts of this leadership style to the team you manage, you can start by following a few steps.

1. Be willing to keep learning

Continuous learning is important for all leaders, including innovative ones. To be able to move a project forward and come up with creative concepts, you need to have relevant knowledge and the willingness to continue to learn about new ideas in your field.

Related: 15 Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader

2. Study innovative leaders

Learning by example can help you identify some of the key traits of successful innovative leaders and apply those traits in your own leadership style. Look at leaders who have proven their success as innovators and consider what they did differently.

3. Look for ways to improve upon current concepts

Some of the best innovative leaders have improved upon things that already exist, rather than creating all-new concepts. Innovation is not the same as invention, but rather a way to introduce a new idea to the world in a way that has not yet been seen. In the previous example, we learn that Steve Jobs did not invent the personal computer but rather changed the way the product was shown to the end consumer and talked about it differently.

4. Set manageable goals

Setting goals is an important aspect of successful leadership. You can set goals for yourself and your team members, but these goals should be clear, manageable and easy to understand. When setting goals, ask yourself why the idea matters to the business or the consumer, as well as what purpose the goal is working to achieve.

5. Find your passion

Passion is a key driver in success, so finding what you are passionate about can help you become more successful in your professional career. It is harder to remain motivated if financial gain is your only reason for doing your job. Feeling passionate about what you do helps you achieve greater fulfillment, which you can then pass on to those you lead.

6. Be willing to adapt

Change can be challenging for people across all industries, as it involves adjusting a mindset and adapting to new ways of thinking and doing. Becoming more willing to adapt to change and even push change forward can benefit you in your goal to lead by innovation. The entire concept of innovation is built around change and creative thinking, so it is critical to be open to change and the benefits that may come from adapting and shifting existing processes.

7. Be persistent

Persistence is another shared trait of some of the most successful leaders in history. You may fail before you achieve success, but what will set you apart from others is your willingness to keep going and try again.

Explore more articles