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5 Practices of Innovative Leaders

Organizations have a relatively short shelf life without innovation and, oddly enough, few allot time and resources to imagination and creativity.

Imagination is one of the four critical traits we call out in our Elemental Churches framework—along with Integrity, Passion, and Servanthood. All four are essential for church health and effectiveness.

In “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators”, authors Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen interviewed hundreds of innovators and nearly five-thousand executives to distinguish the disparate ways of thinking that innovative leaders use over the average leader. The simple fact is that innovators think differently and as a result, act differently. Their surveys uncovered five key behavioral patterns:

First was their ability to practice associational thinking. They loved connecting seemingly unrelated ideas and difficulties to create new ways of thinking. Innovators never seemed to shy away from uncovering other organizations and people who had solved similar problems, often simply asking if someone else had already come up with a solution.

Second, they tended to be keen observers. For instance, it has long been known that the cleverest comedians are typically good at observing—and interpreting with humor—the unique foibles of humans and even their own responses to life’s circumstances. Likewise, imaginative leaders seem to have a heightened sense of “noticing” and then taking the time to interpret their observations.

Third, observation led to the practice of questioning why, as in why we or others do this or that.

Fourth, innovators practice networking with a diversity of people. They see their interaction with people of various backgrounds as a way of garnering new understandings.

Last, imaginative leaders experiment. They typically don’t want to wait for data; instead, they want to make data! Experimentation allows for the creation of new data points.

At an organizational level, how are those five practices being developed in your key leaders?

If there seems to be a dearth of these practices, you have just discovered your primary way of assessing the strength of the Imagination element.

If you’re a church leader, please don’t dismiss this as mere “corporate-speak”; a cursory reading of the gospels reveals what an imaginative and innovative rabbi Jesus was. His observations and revolutionary strategies seriously upset the religious establishment and status quo. His seemingly relentless questions posed to his followers caused them to think differently. His miraculous handling of the fish and loaves to feed thousands of people certainly tapped into “new technologies to serve people better!” That “approach” would have never been considered by the political and religious powers of that day.

Is it time for some imaginative, innovative, disruptive changes in your church?

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches


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