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Different leadership skills for different innovation strategies

Jean‐Philippe Deschamps (Professor of Technology and Innovation Management at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is the co‐author of Product Juggernauts: How Companies Mobilize to Generate Streams of Market Winners (Harvard Business School Press, 1995). Prior to joining IMD, he was the leader of Arthur D. Little's technology and innovation management consulting practice (

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 1 October 2005




CEOs facing the challenge of stimulating innovation must select one or more champions to entrust with that critical mission. Selecting the right manager who will have the leadership skills, charisma and determination to lead a major innovation initiative is one of the most important decisions a CEO has to make. But innovation comes in many different varieties – new product category, new business model, improved customer solution, improved product, process or service offering. So it's appropriate to also ask, “Is a different leadership profile needed for each particular type of innovation?” And also, “How do we choose the best person to lead a particular innovation effort?”


The question, “What qualities does our innovation initiative leader need?” can be addressed in four steps: define innovation leadership and offer a simple classification of innovation leaders based on the focus of their contribution; suggest a broad typology of innovation that reflects both the strategic objectives pursued and the way innovation occurs; describe a number of broad leadership imperatives implicit in each generic innovation effort; and identify some key leadership skills, qualities and styles required for success in each generic type of innovation effort.


This article defines four generic innovation strategies with distinct leadership imperatives. Each of these four strategies requires a different emphasis by management in at least four areas: enabling process, organizational mechanism, cultural trait and people profile.

Research limitations/implications

Based chiefly on the author's lengthy experience. Needs analytic study.

Practical implications

Explains why top management plays the vital role of hiring the right people to manage each kind of innovation effort. Shows how to match specific types of innovation projects with executives with specific skill sets. By starting with a classic typology of innovation according to its objectives, scope, intensity and boundaries, it defines four generic innovation strategies with distinct leadership imperatives.


Shows why top management must fully understand the importance of matching the skills of innovation leaders with the specific tasks and roles they will face in specific situations. Ultimately, it is up to top management to ascertain that it has the necessary cadre of innovation leaders with profiles matched to the company's innovation efforts.



Deschamps, J. (2005), "Different leadership skills for different innovation strategies", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 31-38.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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