Innovation Leadership

Leadership for a New World


All functioning organizations engage in some form of ongoing improvement, even if at the smallest levels. However, in our increasingly complex world, it is imperative that all organizations continuously innovate and have a strong culture of innovation. In the past few decades, innovation in education was largely framed on improving practices, bringing in new technologies, enhancing pedagogies and even redesigning learning environments. While these can and should continue to be areas of focus, they all largely were about improving the system from the inside-out. In the decade to come, however, we will see global shifts that will have deep implications on the structure of educational ecosystems, pathways, and options for learners, etc. – including AI-enabled technologies, that will force innovation into the K-12 education system from the outside-in in ways we have never seen before. We are shifting from a focus of innovation as a destination in education, to a means and a way of being.

Innovation Leadership

Being able to effectively lead organizations in this way requires a focused type of leadership – Innovation Leadership – which has been defined as “the ability to inspire productive action in yourself and others during times of creation, invention, uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk” (Cone, 2019). These leaders understand trends and opportunities to guide a strategy on how their organization will create evolved products and services that best serve their clients. Innovation Leadership is hallmarked by a number of aspects:

Self-awareness and Growth Mindset: knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses and blindspots; embracing learning and failure as part of that journey; seeking feedback and support for impact rather than trying to do it all on one’s own.

Embracing ambiguity and taking risks: As an opportunity to define a new pathway over fearing the unknown.

Facilitating a culture of trust and safety: Risk-taking and learning are only possible, and effective, in an environment that feels safe to take those risks. Innovation culture is inherently relational, and leaders work to cultivate those relationships and culture first, over outcomes.

Encouraging play, design and experimentation, and empowering innovators: Good innovation comes from playing with ideas, purposefully designing possible solutions, testing them for feedback, and adjusting as needed.

Prioritizing learning: Innovation cultures are learning cultures. Innovation is the natural result of setting goals in a culture that understands how to collectively learn and grow into the future.

It’s possible to be a leader without being an innovator; and it’s possible to be an innovator without being a leader. In today’s world, the best leaders are both—they are defined by action, who understand the role of failure, freedom and responsibility, who understand that not taking risks is the greatest risk of all, and who are ready to head into uncharted waters, empowering their team to help steer the ship.



Ultimately, Innovation Leadership is about cultivating a culture that is dynamic, design-oriented, and about learning at all levels—learning about what works best for your learners, for your community, and in an ongoing fashion in response to our complex, changing world. Doing that effectively requires building first and foremost on a foundation of trust. As Sir Ken Robinson so wisely taught us, “The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued. So it’s much more about creating climates.” 

Innovation Leadership Coaching

Today’s school leaders provide support to so many in their communities, yet often they have few supports in place for themselves. Having a coach can be a powerful resource for gaining deeper clarity on areas of strength and growth, how to navigate changes to modern school designs, and effectively support their community in that journey. We often a range of options in how to get coaching support. If you’re interested in Innovation Leadership Coaching, please schedule a time to speak with us so we can best identify your goals and suggest options for you.