Innovation: The Role of the Manager

Innovative organizations are changing the way they view the competencies that are required in their leaders and managers. In fact, leadership and management are becoming less distinguishable roles.

Managers used to be expected to take on the day-to-day operations, to troubleshoot, implement new initiatives, manage coverage to make sure that there were enough people to do the work and so on.

The world today is more complicated. Managers are expected to be managers and leaders – to be more strategic. That includes looking for solutions to complex problems; problems that they may not know the solution to but are expected to find.

Jack Welch, retired CEO of General Electric (GE) was considered one of the best and most innovative CEO’s of modern times. He had this to say:

“We know where most of the creativity, the innovation, the stuff that drives productivity lies – in the minds of those closest to the work. ”

Leaders need to ask the question: How do we tap into the innovation and creativity of “those closest to the work?”

The answer should be: “From the front line managers.”

The next question leaders need to ask is: “Do our managers have the skills to engage front-line employees into coming up with the innovation and creativity required?”

Managers who have been promoted in organizations for their command and control approach may no longer be the best equipped for this new role. New skills and “behaviours,” competencies if you will, are required.

What do these new skills and behaviours look like?

Management Competencies that Support Innovation

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the three types of people needed to successfully spread a social epidemic. By social epidemic he means a social fad, as in a certain type shoe or, believe it or not, a social disease. The three types of people that he refers to are called: Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople.


These are people who are:

  • Intensely social – gregarious
  • Likeable, friendly, approachable
  • Genuine
  • Masters of weak ties – know the right people
  • They are in the center of things
  • Occupy many different worlds & subcultures
  • They bring the right people together



These are:

  • Experts or Connoisseurs
  • They like people
  • Trusted teachers…educators
  • They are well informed…in-the-know
  • Well respected…not braggarts
  • Supporters and encouragers
  • Helpers
  • Developers and growers of people
  • People turn to mavens for advice
  • Mavens are confidants



  • Salespeople have a vision
  • They can articulate that vision as a memorable, compelling message
  • Genuine in creating a message that can change people’s behaviours
  • Permission givers
  • They are accepting of certain behaviours
  • They are persuaders and influencers
  • Optimistic, energetic, believable


What do these three types of people have to do with management competencies?

Building a culture of innovation is about starting an epidemic of innovation in the workplace. It’s about starting a new way of communicating; a way of tapping into “those closest to the work.” It’s all about managers behaving in a way that engages people and not in a way that disengages them or “turns them off.”

This is not to say that organizations need three different managers to run a unit. What it does mean is that a manager should know his or her personal strengths and act in the role(s) that suits the strengths. Then identify individuals with the other required strengths and put them in those roles.

Managers are ultimately accountable for results and to achieve those results they may have to delegate responsibilities; set up a communication loop that feeds information back to them, and allows the collaborative process to happen.

MLEK provides training, consulting and strategic advice to the public, private, not-for-profit and academic sectors. The firm specializes in leadership, communications, innovation, management, ethics and emotional intelligence. The MLEK team connects client needs to leading-edge best practices.

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