Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and also the Founding Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project. She is also a women and leadership author, speaker, and global thought leader.
The most innovative leaders I know are those who are lifelong learners and who are constantly open to and thrive on change. In fact, many adult learning scholars argue that you really don’t learn unless you are transformed in some way. With these two concepts in mind, let me share some insights and advice.
First, become a lifelong learner. People who are learners develop a growth mindset, which means they embrace challenges, learn from criticism, persist despite obstacles, see efforts as a path to mastery, and are inspired— instead of threatened—by other’s success. Lifelong learners are readers. They discover joy in acquiring knowledge that they can use in some way. These people often develop deep reflection skills and become more observant individuals. Interestingly, all these characteristics, and others, are linked to developing leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities. Why be a lifelong learner? Various studies have found that learners are better leaders, try new things, earn more money, are more independent, gain more skills and expertise, are more interesting and satisfied with life, have more active minds and knowledge, continue to gain cognitive skills as they age, and are more creative and innovative.
Second, embrace change at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. Innovative leaders thrive on and flourish with change. How do you do this? Prepare for ongoing change and expect and accept that constant change is part of life, including in your family, work, church, community, and even leisure \ activities. Shift your mindset of viewing change as a hardship or trial to a positive challenge and growth opportunity. In addition, strengthen your self-efficacy to change, and believe you have a capacity to do so. You can only get more confidence in your ability to change if you practice. Hence, you might have more failure at first, but then you’ll get better and better. In addition, be proactive with change by volunteering and accepting new growth opportunities and becoming more open to feedback and new ideas.
I believe that in today’s world we need more leaders who are innovative, and can problem solve in ways we have never seen in the past. We need more courageous leaders who are willing to remain ethical, honest, and true to their values and beliefs. And, I believe that linking these characteristics with the ability to learn and change is what will make a true difference in the years to come.