In the previous posts, we explored the four innovator types that may be hiding in your midst. We presented one that may be the most apparent because of their iconic status and three that may not be as obvious. You met Shannon, Sam, and Tim who represented our Sage, Synthesizer, and Tinkerer, respectively. The one you’re probably most familiar with is our Dreamer - the one with the big ideas. All these individuals have both strengths and weaknesses that make them apt for innovation. Even so, they need a point person who knows them and can leverage their unique talents in the right ways at the right times. This is your strong utility player, who can balance the team, encourage forward progress, and even resolve the personality conflicts when one team member tends to be a retreatist or another is pushing a little too hard. We call this last instrumental role our Leveler. Think about it, they will level out the strong and weak points in the team and will synchronize their team to produce a fluid orchestra aimed at innovation. So, now we want to focus on this person who will seamlessly and effortlessly lead an innovation team, at least that’s how it will appear to her team members. But I warn you, this is our rarest find when it comes to finding innovators around us. While they may be rare, they are essential. Let’s meet Lee.
To know Lee, I thought it best to give you some examples as to how she would interact with the team, then we can explore the traits that might help you identify her a little better. I wanted to introduce her in this way, because she may not currently be someone you think of as a “leader,” but she will be well suited for the role. Again, the role Lee plays is going to feel like leadership, but it is so much more than that. Here’s what I mean.
What is Lee’s process?
It’s Monday and Lee knows there is a new project kicking off midweek. She examines the team’s bandwidth for this new project and thinks through whose skills and expertise would be best suited for the project based on what she knows. So, after documenting the basic needs, defining the problem, and collecting general knowledge of the project from the client, she messages Shannon, her Sage, to see if she has a few minutes to talk. With a yes, they head to Shannon’s desk. Lee sits down and talks it through with Shannon one-on-one, relaying the intell about the project and allows Shannon to ask any questions right then. Lee lets her know that the meeting will happen on Wednesday and should look for an invite, while also reminding her that her expertise in data is going to be essential for the project’s success and relays her enthusiasm for having Shannon on the team.
A short time later, Lee preps an email for Sam and adds the updated project docs as an attachment before hitting send. In the email, Lee lets him know that he can shoot her any questions and then prompts him to start digging around for some industry information to get a cursory understanding of the competitors in the market. Lee tells him to be prepared to talk about them at a high level to better inform the team and that she’ll be looking forward to his additional insights at the meeting. Remember, Lee already checked his schedule and knows he’s free, and Lee wants his style and skills on this project.
As for Tim, Lee knows she can catch him around the office. Spotted at the coffeemaker, Lee stops Tim and excitedly relays the new client problem and lets him know that there will be a kickoff meeting this week. “Just saying,” Lee suggests, “We are going to need some of your brain power on this one, Tim. Be thinking about it and look for an invite.” Lee knows this is enough to get the wheels turning for Tim. She expects a message from him if this was enough to get him going because he will ask a question or two before the meeting. If he doesn’t, Lee will continue to prompt him a bit as their paths cross with a, “Hey, have you been thinking about that problem I mentioned to you?” over the next few days.
Dane is another one where Lee wants to plant some seeds prior to the kickoff. When they run into each other, Lee lets him know the basics and tells Dane his perspective and brilliance will be required! He will hear more about it at the meeting. Lee knows the seeds are important now, because both Dane’s and Tim’s input will be more valuable later on in the project for the ideation portion, but for now, their interest and excitement is the goal.
Do you see what Lee did here? With the four types, they were each engaged on the level needed to get them started. Lee gave Shannon the one-on-one time she knows she needs because she is more comfortable with those interactions, as well as plenty of lead time to prep for the meeting. With Sam, Lee gave him some action items to be a strong contributor at the meeting and allowed him time to get some thoughts together. As for Tim and Dane, the stage was set with the seeds planted to stimulate their thinking and get them intrigued. Lee met each one of them on their level and engaged them appropriately. With the meeting invite sent, Lee now makes time to be accessible and available over the next few days as these four individual innovator types fire up their interest and discover any additional needs or concerns before they meet.
Do you know Lee?
When you understand Lee’s process a bit better, then you gain a better understanding of Lee, period. She is a people person, invested in others, and is someone who takes the time to know the people on the team. She knows their strengths, communication styles, where they suffer some, what they value, and how to motivate them. Lee can know this about others because she knows this about herself. The personal insightfulness and empathy displayed are key, along with the courage to test and learn some tactics with each team member individually. What do I mean? It took time to know Shannon responds better to one-on-one interactions that are requested, rather than forced onto her by a surprise visit. Lee realized Sam wants to be a contributor at meetings because that helps keep him engaged in the project and gives him some control. This learning came by watching, doing, understanding, then adapting and changing when things did not work. Lee learned the team by trial and error until the tactics were found that seemed to support their best efforts. Lee learned Tim and Dane just need some focused intrigue, so the plan became some intentional interactions to plant those seeds. Nothing more. No weeds. Just seeds. For all these reasons, again we are calling Lee our “Leveler” in this series. She has some of the strengths of all the other innovator types. She can serve as a sage for Shannon. She has tinkered with her process for engaging and motivating her team. She certainly synthesizes client information and compares that to her team in an effort to determine the best fit. And she is certainly one who is worldly and in touch enough to contribute good ideas to the project. Hence the name then, she can balance out the team, or level it, and during the project, she can make sure the team stays in sync. When we think about the traits that make her unique, this is how they might measure up.
You might be thinking now that Lee is some ethereal human behavior magician-like oracle that can see into people’s souls. She is not. She is not a psychologist. She is not locked up in the C-suite, because Lee sounds like a leader, and we think leaders live there. Lee is invested in other people because she understands people will be the ones to solve the world’s problems and people need to be performing at their best to do so. Over the course of the project mentioned above, Lee will help the team pair off intentionally, will guide healthy discussions, and will create a space that is safe for them to ideate, create, try, fail, try again, and produce. They won’t necessarily feel the invisible hands that are shaping the project progress and guiding them forward. That is Lee’s role. The team will complain to Lee and Lee will let them. Lee not only creates a safe space to work, but Lee is also a singular safe space. Lee will know when they need a mental break and will help work through the fiery debates on ideas, but most importantly, this role will help ensure the team feels energized, motivated, and cohesive by the end of the project. No one will feel unheard, unwanted, devalued, or defeated and if they do, Lee will get the team back on target. This is not arbitrary and like everything with Lee, the methods are intentional. Lee is constantly examining team dynamics, looking for opportunities to enhance team support, and get the best work, every time. Because when you are Lee, you know the next project is already in your inbox… and her process starts over again.
Do you know a Lee? Can you point to someone in your organization that acts like Lee? Some people may point to a project manager or even a Director, and maybe she has those titles. Lee is going to be a little tougher to find, but we want to know if you have Lee in your midst and what you do to support her? I would love to know more about your experiences with Lee. Are you Lee?
Again, this is a community social experiment, so let’s keep the conversation going, especially now that you’ve met our 5 innovator types. The next post is going to dig a little deeper into how they are unique and different from each other and then we will get into how to build your team. Don’t worry if you are not sure yet who is what type around you. Just hang tight, because the differences may help you know and understand your team better and then knowing the differences should help you better understand how to support their collaboration, and ultimately, their innovation potential.