How Great Leaders Build a Culture of Innovation and Change



“Never innovate to compete, innovate to change the rules of the game.“ — David O. Adeife

A culture of innovation starts with trust.

After all, nothing ventured nothing gained.

And ventures mean taking risk.  And nobody wants to go out on a limb, or spread their wings, if there’s no trust.

In the book, In the book, Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, G. Shawn Hunter shares how leaders can inspire people with passion and purpose to build a foundation of trust to set the stage for outstanding results and world-class innovation.

6 Building Blocks of Trust

Here are the building blocks of trust that leaders use to build a culture of innovation and change:

  1. Involve People Early
  2. Make the Business Transparent
  3. Communicate the Vision, Simplify, Communicate Again
  4. Use Strategic Stories to Build Culture
  5. Set the Example, Model the Way
  6. Sustain and Grow the Energy in Others

1. Involve People Early

Don’t throw things over the wall and expect it to stock.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Build trust from the bottom up.  Employees who are close to the action have practical, often illuminating, ideas for change and improvement.  People are more willing to get involved if you involve them from the start.”

2. Make the Business Transparent

When people see how what they do connects to the business, they engage.  Also, when people don’t know what’s going on, they make up stories, and the stories can be worse than reality.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Whenever you have the opportunity, connect people’s word and action to the company’s business metrics, core concepts, and principles.  If any of the metrics, concepts, or principles are not crystal clear to your team members, explain them in their language.  Take the time to listen to their stories.  These are like gold — precious, revealing indicators of trust.  When you share company news — whether it be positive or negative — do it in person as much as possible.  The language of emotion is best spoken, person to person.”

3. Communicate the Vision, Simplify, Communicate Again

Remember KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid.)

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Communicate and reiterate core concepts — principles, values, visions, and strategies.  Keep your messages simple, but powerful.”

4. Use Strategic Stories to Build Culture

You know you have a good story when it inspires people to action, and people share the story in the halls and beyond the walls.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“If we want those in our organizations to remember the key priorities or to remember the reason why we’re going in a certain direction, we need to develop and share strategic stories that help remind others of the purpose of their work and what they must consider in making decisions.  People remember little from looking at data and statistics, yet easily recall compelling stories.  If we want people to behave in particular ways when they are away from us — which is much of the time — we should use provocative stories that have a singular message and require a few key actions that are taken to achieve the depicted goal.”

5. Set the Example, Model the Way

Making this happen not only builds momentum, it’s contagious.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Great leaders love what they do and feel great purpose in it.  This rubs off on those they work with.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the person who is leading us …  Set the example by implementing desired changes, however small.  Make change happen reasily, even if it’s one step in a bigger change effort.”

6. Sustain and Grow the Energy in Others

Great things happen with people.  Keep people inspired and on top of their game.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“In addition to being highly specific and nuanced in recognizing contribution, skilled energizers also build opportunities for people to make contributions.  Not only do they praise with high specificity, but they also offer settings in which people can bring their best skills and make their best contributions to tasks and projects and team environments.  In other words, the best energizers understand each player’s strengths an create opportunities for players to make their most meaningful contributions.”

Note a word of caution…
Leaders should be positive and energizing — but avoid over-ambitious or preposterous schemes that leave others sapped of energy, optimism, and hope.  Something as simple as sprucing up the work spaces or fixing broken equipment are tangible signs of positive energy.”

Ask yourself how can you lead the way to do great things, make things happen, and help others to do the same?

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Image by ImagineCup.


  1. Does Shawn talk about leaders talking about their failures and mistakes?

    It being ok to make mistakes and have failures seems to be an important part of this approach.

  2. Great question, and the answer is a resounding yes.

    It was refreshing to see how he talks about failure and risk in a pragmatic way.

    He focuses on building trust, not just in an “I trust that you’ll behave this way” sort of a way, but more in a “vulnerability-based” trust sort of way. Meaning, go out on a limb because we’ve got your back.

    Additionally, he also talks about establishing processes so that it takes the blame off of individuals and helps an organization take more intelligent risk.

    He points out that if someobody succeeds, it’s easy to focus on heroic efforts. The problem is this reinforces an individual to avoid taking on something they might fail at.

    But if the process and systems support taking risk, then instead of focus on failure or success, the focus is on learning and improving.

    He also talks about leaders being vulnerable and having a growth mindset as a healthy way to build a learning organization and culture that supports risk taking and innovation up and down the chain.

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