Leaders frequently need to inspire people to achieve what they never have and maybe even what they don’t believe they can. This requires deliberate encouragement, feedback and vision. When Everett Rogers promoted the “Diffusion of Innovations” idea based on the research he did with others in the 1950s, he gave us the time-honoured idea that, whereas 2.5% of people are innovators, there is another group of 13.5% who are early adopters of new ideas. On the other hand, the 16% of ‘laggards’ are slow on the uptake. A normal distribution of innovation, of course, gives a middle majority of 68%.
When we appeal to the laggards, we may be trying to shift the immovable, but we also tend to focus our efforts on what is not being done and risk being too intense and too uninspiring. On the other hand, focusing on the top-end-sixth, we celebrate clear wins, go with the goers and inspire the middle majority who generally want to be led but need to be convinced. Sometimes, too, that middle majority can provide great quality control and help to identify risks and realities that need to be considered. After all, not every innovation should be embraced and not every resistor is a trouble-maker!
Finally, vision casting an idea with great positivity that celebrates the early adopters to move the middle needs focused energy and public unity. The ‘battle in the boardroom’ can and should sort out issues beforehand or in the revision stages of proposals. This often requires doses of realism from those devil’s-advocate-types and the detail-analysers who need to count the cost of the vision. As long as those people have a can-do attitude, they can give a leader confidence in casting a vision that anticipates and answers the challenges, but in an atmosphere of public positivity that leads innovation decisively and with inspiration.