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I Believe I Can Fly: Leadership that Inspires Innovation

By Verity Creedy

Verity Bissett-PowellI was about three-and-a-half years old when Supergirl, starring Helen Slater and Peter O’Toole, was shown on BBC television. I was too hyperactive a child to sit and be absorbed by the entire movie and instead was transfixed by one specific feature of the film—this girl, who had blond hair not dissimilar to mine, could fly.

She went into an open space, practiced, and flew. I estimate that I probably spent the next nine evenings in the garden, trying this myself. This scene must have been hysterical to my parents, who I am I Believe I Can Flysure sat tickled at the sight of their little tot jumping forwards with arms outstretched, again and again. I reflected that they never once told me to stop, or reset my expectations for flight, or dissuaded my efforts. This of course could have been for the entertainment value, but more likely, it just didn’t occur to them to tell me that I could not do something that I so clearly wanted and believed that I could do.

This memory surfaced only recently, when I was considering the role that leaders play in driving innovation (or strategies in general), within their organisations. It is becoming increasingly apparent that training employees in innovation techniques is an expensive and ineffective practice, unless you have built an environment for proposed innovations to come to fruition. So what are the three conditions that we as leaders should be setting for our teams to create and execute innovative change?

  1. Share a vision for a new world. In early October, Bill Gates wrote a great article called Accelerating Innovation with Leadership. In this article he praises President Kennedy for challenging the country to put a man on the moon within a decade. Gates said, “Kennedy believed looking to the skies would inspire the country to dream big and accomplish huge things.” He set an ambitious and motivating goal for his team, in this case, the U.S. Congress and the entire country, to aspire to.

    What about you? Do you paint such a landscape for innovation to unfold? Is your vision for the team, department, or organisation so inspiring that your team jumps up to try something new or different?
  2. Demonstrate confidence in your team. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander offers ideas on how to shift your perspective and be open to possibilities that may benefit your professional or personal life. There is one particular experiment in the book that fascinates me. Ben Zander, a conductor in the Boston Philharmonic orchestra, found that many of his students were paralysed with performance anxiety. Taking risks and opening themselves to failure was not appealing to these quality-conscious individuals. So Mr. Zander gave all his pupils an A grade—at the beginning of the course. At the end of their studies, to keep the A grade, the students simply had to write Ben a letter to state why they believed they had earned this top score and highlight what they had accomplished during the year. This instant awarding of an A resulted in more comfort by the students to speak freely, challenge the status quo, and open themselves up to possibility. By setting the tone that they could achieve, many more did achieve.

    What would happen if you gave your whole team an A? Or if at the beginning of the year you informed your direct reports that they had all received top scores in their performance plans? Or perhaps even if you just highlighted their strengths rather than continuously reminded them of their improvement areas?
  3. Watch the word “no.” Musician Robbie Williams, former member of boy band Take That, a solo career, and most recently his revelations on the Graham Norton show, is also a poet. This came to my attention recently when my friend, a teacher, told me that he recited Robbie’s Hello Sir poem at a start-of-year school ceremony. He shared the poem with the high school students because he wanted them to know that he will never tell them that they cannot do something that they strive to achieve. Specifically it was Robbie’s criticism of his old teacher that struck a chord with my friend:
         Who are you to tell me this?
         The dream I want I’ll have to miss
         Sir is God, he’s been given the right
         To structure lives overnight.
    How often do you say “no” to your team members, whether to their career aims or smaller innovative efforts? Have you fallen into the “we tried that before and it didn’t work” pitfall? Or do you say “give it a go, let’s see what happens”? What if, as leaders, we changed our mind-sets to a state that each team member can and will, rather than "may not" or "won’t"?

When I first recalled my infant Supergirl efforts, I blushed with embarrassment at the memory, thinking: what a silly girl. However, after writing this blog, I now look at the scene differently. As a toddler I was unrestricted by the limits of possibility, happy to take the repeated grassy-kneed falls, and fixated for my vision to come true. This has become a reminder to me to be more like my parents by looking out at my team and supporting those who are making their own leaps—to encourage them and set an environment where possibilities are endless, and flight entirely conceivable.

Verity Creedy heads up DDI’s European sales team and is based in London. When she’s not working with clients to identify talent solutions that address their business strategic aims, Verity can be found completing half marathons, window-shopping at unusual shoe stores, and telling people about her adoration for Taylor Swift. If you have any running tips, shoe store recommendations, or Swifty news, send them to

Posted: 18 Nov, 2016,
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