01/24/2012 09:30 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2012

How to Build an Innovation Leader

Every organization needs an innovation champion. This very important role requires exceptional people skills and communication skills, and the ability to be a master consensus builder among all players in the organization. Innovation champions come in a wide range of styles of interaction. Renowned psychologist Michael Kirton developed the Kirton Adaptive Innovation Inventory (KAI) as a profiling tool to measure problem-solving styles. The general characteristics of innovators are as follows:

• Ingenious, original, independent, unconventional
• Challenges problem definition
• Does things differently
• Discovers problems and avenues for their solutions
• Manipulates problems by questioning existing assumptions
• Is a catalyst to unsettled groups, despite their consensual views
Now here are general characteristics of adaptors:
• Efficient, thorough, methodical, organized, precise, reliable
• Accepts problem definition
• Does things better
• Concerned with resolving problems versus identifying them
• Seeks solutions in tried-and-true ways
• Reduces problems by improvement and enhanced efficiency, while aiming at continuity and stability

What is your problem-solving style? Each mode has its advantages, and the most successful leaders are those who can use both styles of creative problem-solving flexibly. These characteristics mark that of an Innovation champion and an agent for change within an organization.

An innovation champion can nurture a culture of sustained Innovation in a company by taking a three-step approach.

1. Define the desired culture. Doing so will help the organization to understand what innovative behavior looks like and to bring that change to the company. Quantify the goal, such as "one new product to market per year." Determine the champions and key players you'll need to bring on board from all parts of the organization, including marketing, sales, finance, manufacturing, etc.
2. Establish the foundations. Devise a method to properly measure success, with leading indicators such as amount of new ideas collected, and lagging metrics such as amount of sales attributed to new products. Be sure to communicate those successes with the entire organization! Surprisingly, this practice is often forgotten -- but is instrumental in building team morale and support for the innovation.
3. Engineer sustainability. This means creating regular activities with the purpose of fostering innovation. Meetings, news updates, and brainstorming sessions are all a part of the process. Develop imagery to bring the program to life such as internal innovation awards.

These are some basic steps in becoming an innovation champion and an agent for change. For more tips and a hands-on approach for creating and sustaining innovation, see "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival."