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Managers: The Innovator

The innovator is sometimes a better leader than manager

As promised in the introduction to this series of articles about Managers: The Good and the Bad, we’ll focus firstly on “The Innovator”.

Innovators are those leaders who can easily view the future and they will try to explain their view of the future to anyone who will listen.  They challenge the status quo, think in terms of possibilities, and tend not to be encumbered by risks and ambiguity that hinder most people from embracing the future and change.

Characteristics of Innovators

MBTI Range:iNtuitive
How to Spot:Innovators tend to speak in the future tense
  • Often have a tough time explaining the future that they “see”
  • May seem abstract at times and often have a hard time articulating a step-by-step explanation of their “vision”
  • Appear to be flaky to some people
  • May attract others who are even more future-focused
  • Present in all generations (Boomers, Seniors, Xers, Millennials)
  • Examples can be found, male or female
Reason(s) to Hire:
  1. Company is stuck in a rut
  2. Company is trying to move from the past into the future
  3. “See” the future and try to mobilize the company to go there
  • The Visionary has a problematic “army” that is unwilling and/or unable to implement the vision
  • Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon:  The Visionary ceases to be visionary, but no one wants to be the messenger

Final Thoughts

The people who follow innovators are either attracted to the future vision or to their passionate, often charismatic expression of what the future might be.


  1. How do innovators communicate vision to the masses?
  2. Must innovators Be managers?  In fact, why wouldn’t we want to hire managers to help Facilitate the innovation.  Aren’t Innovator and Manager jobs that compete with one another?

About Jeff Hayes

Jeff is an agile consultant, coach and trainer with a career spanning 30 years. He specializes in co-creating learning environments to help humans learn how to learn, become more curious and productive, and to build resilience.

Commentary on “Managers: The Innovator”

  1. Jeff Hayes

    There are quite a few Innovator Managers out there in the world and many of them find it difficult to do the jobs both of Innovator and Manager. So what’s the appeal for an innovator to become a manager? In companies where innovators are openly courted, wouldn’t it be best for the innovator AND best for the company if the company were to provide the innovator with a manager who serves as a sort of translator or facilitator?

  2. Mary Ellyn Vicksta

    One of the key stumbling blocks that I’ve seen in my experience is the Innovator’s tendency to think and communicate abstractly. There are many times when I have seen absolutely blank faces after an Innovator has painted a conceptual view of the future and how the strategic direction or potential opportunities were totally misunderstood. What has worked for all involved is to have somebody as the interpreter. The interpreter has the unique characteristic of being able to understand the “vision” of the Innovator and the practicality or the paradigms of the organization. This person has the ability to bridge the communication gap and help both the Innovator and those members who have more of a “stability” stance start seeing the potential and start dialoguing about what the future might hold. In my experience, if there isn’t someone in the organization that fulfills this interpretative role, then the Innovator will become frustrated and either leave or become uninvolved (which leads to unacceptable performance and possible dismissal).

    The other aspect of an Innovator’s frustration are the risk adverse systems that are in place within many well-established and well-entrenched organizations. The leaders in these organizations may know that they need an Innovator for the company’s growth, but they are unaware that the systems in place will naturally thwart any efforts towards meaningful change. A lot of this has to do with the assessment systems put in place to determine the merit of new ideas, products, and processes where there is a bias towards maintaining the status quo. This is a much more difficult conversation to have with an organization and there is where the Innovator needs not only a translator, but perhaps an outside, well-respected consulting group that can give compelling case studies of how assessment systems evaluate “visionary” change.

  3. Jeff Hayes

    Can you think of any good examples of successful Innovator Managers? Peter Drucker believed that traditional ways of choosing managers were all wrong. We used to choose managers from among people who were clearly STJ in their MBTI, and many times ISTJ. Drucker argued that managers need to show more balance, by which he meant more abstractness (N) and not simply S (concreteness); and more openness (P) than judging (J). And this suggests that a borderline NTP might also make a “good” Drucker manager.

  4. Mary Ellyn Vicksta

    The talent that an Innovator has is the ability to create a future vision. This is more a characteristic of a leader, if we think of a leader as a person who sets strategic direction and helps to paint a picture of the future state.

    The manager, on the other hand, is the tactician. He or she is responsible for getting the work done on a day to day basis. In these types of circumstances, this is when an Innovator would be best heard if there is a bridging member within the team or organization that can help the person with the tactical side of things and freeing the innovator up to do more strategic, futuristic work. So, Innovators can be effective managers if they can have a bridger to help with day to day tactics.

  5. Jeff Hayes

    In my experience, Mary Ellyn, managers who are Innovators face an uphill battle in larger corporations where the rote and repetitive nature of Meet -> Explain -> Provide Feedback -> Report is considered most valuable and is most highly rewarded. The true innovators are placed in closets and given a leash of varying lengths. In some organizations they are pitied because they “can’t seem to color between the lines in the same way, time after time”.

    Although you talk about a ‘Bridge’, who — except for an owner or CEO — would allow an Innovator to “have” their own bridge (translator)? Do you have any examples of this?

  6. Mary Ellyn Vicksta

    You also asked about the bridger and who would actually allow a bridger in the current business environment.

    The bridger doesn’t necessarily have the job of always translating. What I’ve seen that works well is the Innovator Manager finds a “sounding board” just to bounce ideas, or important presentations, or ideas about change.

  7. Mary Ellyn Vicksta

    I’ve seen two things block an Innovator Manager. One is being misunderstood. They cast their vision and try to explain what they see, but their message isn’t understood.

    The other challenge is that the Innovator Manager just gets bored. He or she loses interest and just gets interested in something else.

    In both situations, the team is wondering what their manager is thinking and they are hoping that someone will provide direction. I’ve actually seen teams mutiny with an Innovator Manager in charge and someone fills in and soon the Innovator Manager is kicked out

  8. Jeff Hayes

    So… IFF C-level individuals have something like a board of directors or board of advisors that act like a collective sounding board, they themselves can afford to be Innovators.

    Michael Gerber doesn’t say much about HOW the LEADER – MANAGER – TECHNICIAN roles are to be fulfilled; simply that they must all be given their due.

  9. Mary Ellyn Vicksta

    In fact, one of the skills of a C-level individual is to fully use those advisory tools afforded by the Board of Directors, outside agencies that can look across similar (or even different businesses), and all sorts of consultants. Most innovators would thrive will this kind of information in their innovator brains. The question is with the current pressures on business and the bottom line, can other companies besides Apple and Amazon depend on Innovator Managers?

  10. Managers: The Good and the Bad | AlignTech Solutions

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