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Humanist Leadership and Innovation

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Over the fifteenth century, Florence became a dynamic city teeming with creative minds. A symbol of the Renaissance and the cradle of humanism, the city placed man right at the centre of the scene. The city’s leaders deemed that the human being is capable of doing anything put forward. It was the home for personalities such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael, all of whom were already preceded by other minds equally as brilliant, like Brunelleschi, Dante or Francesco Petrarch, to name just a few.

The question hounding me is whether something similar to what occurred during those years in Florence can happen spontaneously. After spending some time thinking about this, I believe that in this case, as in other similar ones, certain initial circumstances must be in place to favour talent attraction, enabling it to flourish and express itself freely. After making it into this virtuous circle, probably it is merely a matter of not hampering and just taking advantage of the synergies generated.

Leonardo is unquestionably the epitome of the creative genius and the Renaissance man; an inventor, painter, sculptor, architect, philosopher, and poet among many other things. Born in a small town in Tuscany not far from Florence, he experienced the greatest years of magnificence in the Florentine Republic of those times. What would have happened if Leonardo had been born in another age? Or born in another place much further away from Florence? Would he still have been the genius he was?

So, what is more important, the individual or the circumstances surrounding that individual? Perhaps we have many Leonardos in our companies. But the environment in most of these companies is too hierarchical, traditional, and obsessed with controlling everything as to allow them to excel and stand out. We are running the risk that people with creative talent go unnoticed if the right circumstances are not in place for that creativity to be able to flow and grow within our organizations.

Florence’s success was largely due to Lorenzo de Medici, known as "Il Magnifico". Lorenzo was a politician, banker and poet, but he stood out first and foremost for his humanistic side and as the facilitator who created the right circumstances for Florence to become the main hub for attracting creativity and innovation in his time.

To discover the Leonardos and Michelangelos living in or sometimes just surviving in our organizations, it is necessary to have more Lorenzos. The more magnificent they are, the better. Innovation must overcome many barriers and that prevents us from moving from words to action. However, there is no doubt that one of the main barriers is the lack of leaders who are committed to creating the right circumstances to boost and favour creative ideas, which in some instances can even challenge the status quo.

Companies by nature find it hard to create a culture of constant innovation. The modern corporation, designed to achieve peak efficiency, generally relies on structures, standards and processes that often inadvertently stifle innovation or even kill it. Be it intentional or not, the premature death of ideas and innovations is something that happens repeatedly. The logic behind suppressing innovation may even make sense. In settings where short-term goals are of great importance, high-level executives try to exert control over organizations and the people within, so that these critical goals can be reached. By doing so, however, key long-term benefits are often sacrificed.

To avoid this, it is essential to have leadership who are able to ignite the spark that allows talent to break out. When talking about leaders, I am not talking about superheroes, nor about charismatic characters endowed with the gift of seduction and the ability to mobilize thousands of people. I am referring to ordinary, yet visionary people, who really believe in their teams going beyond formalities and pleasantries. Such people are capable of trusting others, indicating the goal, and yet let each one chose his or her own path to reach it.

Such managers are flexible and confident enough, so they do not need to control everything. They are also able to delegate and to grant freedom. They are humanist leaders who put people at the centre of their organizations and allow them to develop their talents. They believe, just like the first humanists, that man is not here to only do small things.

Without them, innovation will remain an attractive word, but mostly without substance. Companies will continue to launch initiatives and programs to generate ideas, which often will never respond to expectations.

Xavier Camps

Xavier Camps es fundador de Innoservice Consulting y especialista en innovación. Colabora con empresas pertenecientes a diversos sectores. Sus principales áreas de trabajo son: la creación de culturas innovadoras a partir de las personas, la gestión del proceso de innovación, desde la detección de oportunidades hasta la comercialización y la innovación del modelo de negocio.

Es licenciado en A.D.E por la Universitat de Barcelona, Executive MBA (EADA), Executive Master in Business Innovation (Deusto Business School) y ha realizado también un programa de Intra/Entrepreneurship, High‐Tech Spin‐offs and Innovation en la Cambridge Judge Business School. Colabora como profesor con varias escuelas de negocio como, IESE, Loyola Leadership School y ENAE Business School en diferentes programas ejecutivos en "in company", impartiendo sesiones relacionadas con la gestión de innovación.

Es autor de “Cómo llegar a ser una empresa innovadora”, y del blog “The Jazz Musician”, donde escribe sobre temas relacionados con la innovación y las personas que la hacen posible. El blog recibió una mención especial en la última edición de los premios de la Blogosfera de RRHH.

Xavier Camps is the founder of Innoservice Consulting and an innovation expert. He collaborates with companies in various sectors. His main areas of work are: creation of innovation cultures from the people, innovation management process from the detection of opportunities through to commercialization, and business model innovation. Graduated in Business Administration from the University of Barcelona, and holds an MBA (EADA), an Executive Master in Business Innovation (Deusto Business School) and also an Intra/Entrepreneurship, High-Tech Spin-offs and Innovations programme at the Cambridge Judge Business School. He collaborates as a lecturer with several business schools such as EADA, Loyola Leadership School, Deusto Business School and ENAE Business School in different executive “in company” programmes, giving sessions on innovation management. He is the author of the book, “Cómo llegar a ser una empresa innovadora” in Spanish (Trans. How to become an innovative company) and the blog, “The Jazz Musician” where he writes on innovation related issues and the people who make it possible. The blog received a special mention in the last edition of the HR Blogosphere awards.

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