Not being afraid to take risks, curiosity, customer focus and sleepless nights are some of the traits that go into being an innovative CEO, the kind that advances their company on the back of new ideas.

Surrounding yourself with good people—not just “yes” men and women—optimism and a commitment to excellence are also seen as necessary attributes.

Innovation “is a critical component for a CEO looking to keep their company ahead of the curve,” said Sarah Tourville, CEO of Media Frenzy Global. “Continually driving growth, ideating and executing on new ways to deliver exceptional value to your customers are prime factors.”

‘Leading courageously’

It comes down to “managing potential risk, leading courageously, demonstrating a continued curiosity and seizing opportunities,” Tourville said. “And having a culture of innovation is what separates the good from the great. Having a team of forward thinkers and doers is truly what helps take a company to the next level.”

To be an innovative CEO, “takes an unwavering commitment to your brand, organization, mission that often requires sleepless nights, early mornings, operating beyond your boundaries, and finding new norms,” said Kurt Westfield, CEO of WC Equity Group. “The status quo is often the enemy of innovation and creating new paths to success does not come easily.”

“What makes a CEO ‘innovative’ is a unique ability to, at the drop of a dime, completely change course and right the ship at a moment’s notice,” said George Levin, CEO of Getintent. “In times of a prosperity, being a leader can seem easy. However, it’s truly innovative to be admit when things aren’t working and change them.”

In any business sector, “innovating new ideas or practices can become increasingly harder as technology and ingenuity are constantly dueling with one another,” Westfield said. “Remaining compliant but setting new challenges requires a delicate balance of pushing the boundaries for success and investing in your firm’s future.”

Curiosity and guts

“It takes curiosity and guts to see opportunities and believe in something that most people won’t, and to pursue that vision even when facing adversity,” said JP Guilbault, CEO of technology software company Community Brands. “As Steve Jobs said, ‘Those crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually do.’ It’s this kind of spirit that I think perfectly describes what it takes to be an innovative CEO.”

Innovative CEOs “are often seen as courageous–appearing to risk their company’s future the ‘new, new thing’ – but their conviction has a foundation in understanding the customer and her world experience,” said Ray Sturm, CEO of AlphaFlow.

Going beyond

Any CEO “can commission research, but the ability to go beyond what your customers ask for and build what they actually need is what separates top CEOs,” Sturm said. “Genuine innovation goes beyond simple improvements on the status quo and that means uncertainty, so CEOs need also to be comfortable managing risk. You’re trying to solve the unarticulated needs and desires of your customers, which means even they may not yet know that they want what you’ve built.”

To be an innovative CEO “not only takes thinking out of the box and taking chances, but more importantly it takes stepping back and listening to others that may have better ideas than you,” said Phil Nardone, Jr., CEO of PAN Communications. “An innovative CEO inspires his employees by being proud of what they have accomplished thus far and leading the way to new horizons with excitement and determination to succeed in new frontiers.”

According to Cheetah Medical CEO Chris Hutchison:

  • It is critical for an innovative CEO to be able to understand customer needs and articulate his or her solution in a compelling way. This is especially true if the solution requires a change in established practice.
  • An innovative CEO must be curious and encourage curiosity in his or her employees. It is by asking questions that we learn about our customers’ motivations, concerns and needs.
  • One must be candid and transparent with employees, customers and investors, and earn respect and trust. What one says privately should be able to withstand public scrutiny.
  • An innovative CEO must inspire optimism, while remaining realistic about what is possible and how fast it can happen.

Having the best employees

“Innovation can only happen when CEOs attract the best talent to the company, ensure these employees set personal goals tied to innovation or generating useful intellectual property and when they are provided dedicated time to spread their wings,” said Infraredx CEO Jason Bottiglieri. “CEOs must also set a clear  purpose for employees which will ensure that the innovation that does occur is strategically important to the long-term success of the company and how it can transform the overall industry.”

Being an innovative CEO “requires frequently assessing new opportunities and navigating change in order to keep the business moving forward,” said RM Harrison, CEO of business strategy firm RM Harrison. “It is also essential for CEOs to know and remain connected to the company’s vision—and be willing to pivot if it veers off course—to ensure it’s moving forward on a sustainable path.”

Cyber strength

Innovative CEOs in this day and age must also have cyber strength, said Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum.

“One of the main attributes of innovative CEOs is the ability to recognize the enormous benefits of cyberspace and leverage them to increase innovation, collaboration, productivity, competitiveness and engagement with customers,” Durbin said. Innovative CEOs prepare themselves and their organizations for the future; they are prepared to be more cyber resilient and they have security measures in place.

They “plan ahead for risk,” Durbin said. “Instead of resigning or losing their jobs following a high-profile information breach, the innovative CEO can skillfully assuage when unmet board expectations are exposed by a major incident. Innovative CEOs keep strong lines of communication between those responsible for cyber security and the board and align board expectations.”

Karen Talley

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