A Closer Look at the Intersection of Leadership & Innovation

May 8, 2018

Education shouldn’t fall victim to barriers such as location, accessibility, and time commitment - especially when it comes to important skills needed to get ahead. In MIT Professional Education's The Intersection of Leadership & Innovation (ILI) eight-week online course, MIT's Dr. David Niño virtually guided the participants through ways to gain leadership momentum, pushing them to lead with more self-awareness and creativity.

The course wasn’t a generic primer on leadership; rather, it was a dynamic course that focused on addressing the concerns of individuals and the real problems that they and their companies were facing, specifically, around the concept of innovation: What roadblocks were preventing desired growth? What development was needed within their team(s) to help promote innovation? How could they develop leadership skills to facilitate the desired growth?

The prospect of learning enhanced leadership skills via an online course seems dubious at first. One might assume that this topic would best be approached through face-to-face contact and interaction with teachers and coaches. However, modern technology–aided instruction and interaction have now granted us the ability to mimic the in-person scenario in unprecedented ways.

A Day in the Life

One of the many benefits of online learning is flexibility. Interested learners don’t have to sacrifice time away from home, miss hours of work, or worse yet - be unable to obtain the knowledge that they are seeking. “You feel you are in a live active course, part of a group, not like the usual self-study video lectures,” said Olafur Andri Ragnarsson, a Digital Transformation Consultant. “Getting feedback fast is great and makes the experience better.”

The course incorporates just as many inter-personal dynamics that you would see inside a traditional classroom. The course team answered questions with real-time office hours and facilitated extensive online interaction between students. Users were encouraged to participate in forums, learning from one another, sharing their experiences, and answering each other’s questions and concerns.

ILI is more than a typical online course. A different module opens each week, each one focusing on a different aspect of leadership. The modules are available on-demand, so that participants can view them when it’s most convenient to them, whether at home, work, or elsewhere. Dr. Niño also begins and ends the program with a real-time virtual workshop, which encourages group participation.

A unique and favorite component of this platform was a ‘Captain’s Log’ for each module (a fun reference for Star Trek fans). Every week, each student was to upload a short video of themselves onto the log, to share with their classmates their ‘aha moment’ during the course, as well as other trains of thought. The log brought a stronger feeling of intimacy to the course, showing a human side of each classmate not seen normally in an online educational environment with hundreds of registrants.

The Components of Effective Leadership

Even on a virtual platform, Dr. Niño was able to cover a breadth of topics that are applicable to leaders, whether emerging or experienced. While his lectures expanded on topics, such as brainstorming, public speaking, ethical concerns, and more, he didn't provide cookie-cutter examples for these topics. Instead, Dr. Niño incorporated his research of established leaders from around the world and demonstrated how his own leadership experiences could be learning opportunities for others. Topics he covered included:

  • Defining the relationship between innovation, creativity, and leadership.
  • Identifying your strengths in leadership, and what other successful leaders are doing.
  • Considering the ethics involved in new endeavors.
  • Communicating innovation effectively and creating a culture of change and evolution.
  • Pulling everything together and making change happen.

Becoming a Leader of Innovation

Regardless of your leadership status, there’s always a way for you to use the skills taught in this course. Whether you’re an executive, a newly promoted manager, or an entrepreneur, there are takeaways for everyone. “I will be less afraid to challenge assumptions and push for opportunities to both develop as a leader and to develop others as leaders,” said Anthony Lujan, Senior Manager, Technology Innovation at Varian.

For some students, the impact was immediate. They went straight into applying their newly-learned problem-solving skills to issues their organization was facing, teaching their colleagues what they learned from the course, and pushing to implement new ideas. “I already see more buy-in from maintenance groups across the organization,” said Edward Czarnecki TPM PM Pillar National Lead at Clearwater Paper Corporation. “They already heard my vision statement during my last monthly call, and they all agreed that they understand it and why we need to do what we are doing.”

Effective leadership is a natural foundation for personal and organizational growth. The best leaders promote constant education, teamwork, innovation, and a healthy company culture. Change doesn’t happen by itself; it needs effective leaders to make it happen.

Do you want to join the next cohort? The next sessions begin June 4, 2018, and September 3, 2018. Learn more.