Professor Neal Hartman is Head of a management division at the MIT Sloan School of Management and has experience in entrepreneurship, management, intercultural communication, conflict resolution, leadership and innovation. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge at the CMI-Enterprises, which is part of the Cambridge-MIT Initiative, working with decision makers from the USA, Cambridge University, and other European universities to develop their innovative credentials. In this interview, he speaks about the impact of innovative leadership in organisational culture. He also speaks about the TEXEM’s training programme to hold in Lagos next month. Nosa Alekhuogie presents the excerpts:
How can a Nigerian leader make an innovative impact in his organisation?
Nigerian leaders have opportunities to make innovative impacts on their organisations in several ways. Their task is to turn their organisations into innovation leaders. Leaders can make intentional changes to organisational processes and products in order to create economic value along with social and environmental benefits.
What skills could be acquired to achieve organisational growth?
It is critical to shift thinking from achieving short-term goals/profits to thinking long-term. Leaders must focus on developing and maintaining relationships with employees, clients, and the community. Leaders also need to explore how they can reduce waste, lower pollution, and decrease the number of natural resources they consume. The essential ingredient to accomplishing these goals is through innovation.
Why should organisational leaders attend TEXEM’s training programme?
The TEXEM’s training programme scheduled to come up on the 14th-15th of November at Eko hotel, Lagos will offer participants the opportunity to examine in-depth the best practices of innovative and sustainable businesses and to consider what steps need to be taken to reach the potential that Nigerian companies have to become more innovative and sustainable. Through cases, discussions, and activities, the training programme will help leaders to see both the opportunities and challenges for Nigerian companies to navigate the future. Also, participants will benefit from networking with other impressive leaders and future leaders both during the executive development programme and afterwards -In addition to the steeper learning curve that participants will gain, the improved social capital is also a source of bumper return on investment.
Do you think Nigerian leaders have acquired the necessary skills to impact globally?
Certainly, there are wonderful examples of Nigerian leaders who are working diligently to turn their organisations into innovation leaders as well as leaders who are actively developing and promoting policies to enhance sustainability. Yet there are so many examples of the work that remains to be done, focusing on issues of poverty, education, infrastructure, the environment, improving their capacity to make better decisions and build successful firms that endure to name a few.
How well do you consider an innovative leader valuable to an organisation especially in this turbulent time?
An innovative leader is extremely valuable to organisations during turbulent times. Because these innovative leaders are constantly experimenting and focusing on sustainability, their organisations are better equipped to deal effectively with scandals, employee strikes, consumer boycotts, stiff competition, disruptive technology or global recessions.
Do you think that the skills acquired during this training will be of essence to these leaders?
Having an opportunity to explore best practices of innovative and sustainable leaders and companies, along with time to consider opportunities and challenges for Nigerian companies, will be extremely helpful to leaders in these dire, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous time. Specifically, themes that will be covered in this programme includes: stimulating drivers’ innovation: culture, reward, structure. Inspiring, design in and driving innovative processes. Leading strategic change for optimal outcomes. Sustaining momentum and organisational focus. Aligning human capital, process and technology and communicating vision and creating urgency.
Which business sectors would this training be beneficial too?
Innovation and sustainability are critical for the success of all organisations. As we look at issues in Nigeria, this training will be beneficial to leaders from food and agriculture, education, government, oil and gas, manufacturing, service industries, construction, public sector, banking and finance, and consulting.
Is an innovative skill important for leaders to acquire especially in this 21st century?
The world is moving rapidly in the 21st century and organisations that do not innovate and change will be left behind to disappear. Innovation is crucial for survival, growth, and consolidation. Innovation must be aligned with strategy and be a mean of unlocking stakeholder value.
How does an innovative skill place a leader ahead of his peers?
An innovative leader is always looking forward, thinking about new ideas, and new ways of doing work, new products, and new markets. The innovative leader will always be steps ahead of the more conservative leader who is less comfortable with change. Thus, an innovative leader will outperform competitors, disrupt the industry and achieve superlative performance.
Would you consider your visit to Nigeria for this programme a necessary one and Why?
There is so much opportunity and so many resources but the nation also faces remarkable challenges. If this programme is a catalyst for dealing with poverty, improving the environment, creating ways for companies to innovate and promote sustainability, create an avenue for business leaders to review their business models, improve their revenue streams and grow then it will be a most useful visit.
How successful can a leader be without being innovative?
Leaders may be successful for a limited amount of time by providing stability to an organisation, but ultimately things change. Look at the technology such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the internet of things that we operate with today and remember that 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago many of these technologies did not exist. We must understand that things change and leaders need to drive much of that change.
How successful can an organisation strive with a leader who is not innovative?
It is difficult for an organisation to survive without an innovative leader. The organisation may thrive for a time, but without innovating products, processes, and companies become things of the past-Think about Kodak, PanAm and Compaq-The common denominator that led to the failure of all these companies is inadequate innovation.
Why is innovation a skill needed at the management level?
True inventive leaders want to create a culture where creativity and innovation happen throughout the organisation. Ideas come from many sources and innovative companies promote ways for all employees to feel empowered to suggest new ideas.
In your experience, how far do leaders with little or no innovation skill go?
When one looks at leaders in top positions in all kinds of organisations, one typically finds people who articulate the company’s goals and values around change, innovation, and sustainability initiatives. Innovative leaders help their companies to be profitable, socially responsible, innovative, and sustainable.