A Publication of WTVP

Leaders play a pivotal role in helping to encourage and foster an innovative environment.

Innovation is something that people are talking a lot about right now in central Illinois, and we are certainly focusing on the importance and urgency of growth and innovation at Caterpillar. So what is innovation all about? Innovation is more than just new gadgets and products—it is also about business processes, administrative processes and nearly every aspect of work, personal and community responsibilities.

Because innovation is not something you can necessarily teach, leaders play a pivotal role in helping to encourage and foster an innovative environment. At Caterpillar, we recently started work on an innovative new values-based leadership program. Through this open-dialogue program, leaders explore the values that become most important for the moment when there is no policy, process or rule. It is in these “gray” moments when leadership emerges.

Innovation occurs when people have a safe environment to share great ideas and bring supportive energy to colleagues who might have a great idea. At Caterpillar, we encourage our leaders to incorporate innovation through their leadership and think about how to create new possibilities. Welcoming new ways of thinking and doing is important to our culture. This might mean changing or challenging the way that we have always done things. A leader who encourages an innovative atmosphere makes the difference between an idea being championed and tested or being lost. Innovation also means not being afraid to fail. Learning from our failures can often lead to a better solution and greater success.

Innovation is the catalyst to new things, growth and horizons that we had not seen before. As we think about how to create new possibilities, we need to think about how we can sometimes disrupt the way we currently do things. It’s easy to think that innovation is great or cool, but often the changes associated with innovation can be difficult. It can challenge the routines and well-established processes that make it easy to get through our days. Disrupting these routines can sometimes bring pain—at the work, community or individual level.

Change can be uncomfortable, and leaders can be the difference that makes innovation possible. This is where the role that leaders play is critical. In the context of inspiring innovation through learning and leadership, consider the following aspects:

  1. Have a sense of humility. Arrogance is transparent and blocks the motivation of others.
  2. Know yourself, know your strengths and know your opportunities.
  3. Take the time to think about your own purpose in the world and how you can serve others as a leader.
  4. Listen and seek first to understand before putting forward your own point of view.
  5. Acknowledge the fear associated with doing something new, but remember to think big, start small and move fast to build momentum.
  6. Allow others to speak up.

The world around us—in Illinois and at a national and global level—is more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than many of us have ever experienced. Every day presents us with an opportunity to lead in our families and our communities. All of us are leaders at some point, perhaps as part of our jobs, or maybe leadership is a temporary state that comes along from time to time. I encourage you to think about how you can lead and inspire innovation in others and contribute to making the changes that might be possible and needed. iBi

Chris Yates is director of development at Caterpillar Inc.