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Most Executives Say They're Promoters, Not Leaders

Most Executives Say They're Promoters, Not Leaders
Credit: Gajus/Shutterstock

Rather than leading the charge to develop new ideas, most company executives take a more hands-off approach to innovation, new research finds.

The study from Twisthink, a product innovation and business strategy consultancy, revealed that just 5 percent of company executives say they take the lead and oversee their organization's innovative processes. Rather, most executives assume a more supportive role in this area, the research found.

Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed described themselves as promoters who encourage a culture of innovation across every level of the company, and 16 percent said they are just spectators who follow the big picture of being innovative but focus most of their attention on improving existing products and services or business challenges. In addition, 17 percent said they are the enablers who provide resources to facilitate the innovation process in their business.  

Some executives are much more involved in fostering new ideas within their organization. The study found that 21 percent of the executives surveyed said they are "doers" who initiate the innovation process and develop the vision and strategies that align with their business priorities, and 16 percent described their role as the supervisor who manages the innovation process. [See Related Story: Job Insecurity Discourages Authenticity and Innovation Among Employees]

Bob Niemiec, managing partner at Twisthink, said innovation requires process, discipline, and the vision and alignment from the highest levels of leadership in order to thrive. "The C suite must be actively engaged, invested and open in order to enable the innovation they are seeking," Niemiec said in a statement.

Overall, those surveyed said being logical, strategic and creative are the top three characteristics of innovation leaders. However, the specific answers and order of importance differed based on how executives described their role in developing and fostering new ideas. Here are the different roles in innovation:

  • Doer: creative, logical, risk-taking and strategic
  • Promoter: risk-taking, strategic, creative
  • Enabler: strategic, logical, organized
  • Spectator: collaborative, logical, strategic, objective
  • Supervisor: logical, collaborative, strategic
  • Leader: logical, visionary, collaborative, creative

Regardless of the role they take in the process, more than 90 percent of executives believe innovation is important for their organization. Nonetheless, just 48 percent have a dedicated innovation process in place.

"It may seem counterintuitive, but you must have a process or approach to innovation; it won't happen magically," Niemiec said.

Those surveyed said that having a clear business strategy and being able to actually implement new ideas have the strongest impact on a company's ability to innovate. Other important factors include developing a culture of risk-taking and having industry expertise and market leadership.

The size of a company, employee diversity, geographic location and a repeatable research process have the smallest effect on an organization's ability to innovate, according to those surveyed.

Regarding future innovation, the executives said they were most concerned about their ability to keep up with rapid technological change and allocate proper talent.

"In our experience, innovative leaders embrace emerging technologies, excellence in design and are a student of new business models that exist beyond their own industries," Niemiec said.

The study was based on surveys of 200 senior executives who have a vice president or higher job title at an organization with an annual revenue of at least $500 million.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.