Five Essential Skills of Innovative Leaders in Education

Bucky Dodd, Ph.D.

What does it mean to be an “innovative” leader in education?

Some might look at this question and be puzzled because education is not necessary known for innovation or speed of change. Yet, the success of any education-related organization such as PreK-12 schools, higher education, corporate and government training, or community organizations is based on how well people, teams, and the organization adapt to and lead change.

The following list highlights five core skills of innovative educational leaders. These are applicable for leaders across all education-related fields including both public and private organizations.


Skill #1: Innovative Leaders Encourage Fast Failures

The risk of failure and pursuit of excellence are two of the biggest barriers to innovation in education. Innovative leaders encourage people to try ideas, fail fast, and learn.


Skill #2: Innovative Leaders Look for Connections

True innovation is not created in silos. Instead, innovation is cultivated through the collisions of seemingly unrelated ideas. Innovative leader help diverse ideas come together around the core goal of helping people learn.


Skill #3: Innovative Leaders Exercise How They Think

It’s easy to get into a situation where you approach new problems the same way you have approached previous problems. Innovative leaders look for new and novel ways of thinking about and pursuing innovation opportunities.  (Note: This can be one of the more uncomfortable tasks for many leaders.)


Skill # 4: Innovative Leaders Make the Invisible, Visible

Getting people energized and connected to a new vision or idea is arguably one of the more challenging tasks of a leader. Innovative leaders in education find ways of moving abstract ideas into reality using visualization tools. This is particularly important when working in education-related situations because much of the experience is invisible.


Skill # 5: Innovative Leaders Think About People First

It’s easy to get caught up in the process of pursuing projects, creating new educational programs, or reaching goals. Innovative leaders place the growth and support of people at the forefront of any innovation initiative. With this priority in place, the growth and results often follow exceeding expectations.

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