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5 Traits of Innovation Leaders (With Real-life Case Studies)

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September 3, 2023
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7 minutes
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to lead innovative business adventures and stand out from the crowd? Are you curious about the traits that set innovation leaders apart from conventional ones?

You see, the world we live in was shaped by innovative leaders. They are the reason why we live in houses instead of caves, why we wear shirts instead of animal hides, why we can fly in an airplane instead of walking to distant lands on foot.

In this article, we will explore the five traits of innovation leaders who created the modern business world. Through real-life case studies outlining their visionary thinking, boldness, decisiveness, empathy, and resourcefulness, we'll paint a vivid picture of how innovation leaders shape the future.

So, let’s dive into it.


  • Innovation leaders challenge norms, imagine the unthinkable, and shape the world through foresight. For instance, Henry Ford taught the world how to shift from horse carts to cars.
  • They also make confident decisions and turn challenges into historic achievements. For example, Elon Musk gave the green signal to launch the Falcon 1 rocket despite technical challenges.
  • Innovation leaders understand the problems of their audience really well and are able to step into their shoes. For instance, Sara Blakely created an innovative range of shapewear to make ladies more confident in their looks.
  • Freelance innovation consultants deliver customized innovative strategies to drive expansion into new industries and ventures, navigate disruptive challenges, and foster sustained business growth.

5 Key Attributes of Innovation Leaders

First, let’s understand the key attributes of innovation leadership. By understanding these characteristics, we can draw a clear distinction between innovation leadership and the more traditional forms of leadership that you may already be familiar with.

5 Key Attributes of Innovation Leaders

1. Visionary thinking

Innovation leaders question the ‘usual way’ of doing things and encourage their teams to imagine scenarios that stretch the boundaries of the imaginable. What makes innovation leaders different is their ability to think of something awe-inspiring and life-changing before anyone else does. And it’s this foresightedness of these visionary leaders that has resulted in the world as we know it today.

Real-life case study:

Thanks to Henry Ford, we’re not driving modified horse carts today—we can travel to distant places in our air-conditioned cars. Even though Ford’s early models were not as comfortable as today’s SUVs, and didn’t have air conditioners, his vision is what led to such immense progress in the automobile industry.

Ford introduced the Model T and made cars attainable for the average person. Determined to break the norms, he used his innovative manufacturing techniques, most notably the assembly line, to dramatically lower the cost of production. As a result, during those days in the early 1900s, a regular person could buy a car for a measly $260! Cars were no longer a luxury reserved for rich people. Thanks to Ford’s vision and his ability to execute the unimaginable.

Image: Ford’s Model T - Ford’s case study

Image: Ford’s Model T

2. Boldness

You know what? People would’ve been okay using keypads if Apple hadn’t disrupted the market with a plain-screen smartphone with just one button! An innovation leader must be bold enough to cause some disruption in an industry. Disruption is quite often necessary while introducing new products, expanding internationally, beating competitors, and making a real change in the world.

Innovation leaders know how to strategically use disruption to bring a new revolution in the market. They possess the trait of strategic disruptors who are determined to challenge established norms and industry conventions. If one can envision transformative shifts and strategically navigate disruptions, then they surely fall into the innovation leader category.

Real-life case study:

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, surely has the boldness of a strategic disruptor. He wanted to disrupt the regular way of shopping and encourage the entire world to buy things online. Bezos’ focus on customer-centricity along with innovative supply chain and delivery solutions, disrupted the way shopping is done. He set a whole new set of standards for convenience and efficiency. A few decades ago, this idea would’ve seemed ridiculous and impossible, but now, even the people who may have doubted Bezos order through Amazon.

Another example is the German entrepreneur Till Schmid, who is the founder of the online consulting platform Consultport. You see, back in the day, only a handful of businesses could afford to engage with top consulting firms. But due to the advent of online consulting platforms, top consultants are more accessible than ever to a wide range of businesses—big and small. Hailing from the innovation hub of Berlin, Germany, Till Schmid's leadership is helping many businesses make the right decisions with the help of highly experienced freelance consultants.

3. Decisiveness

If one takes too long to take action or is doubtful of their decisions, they could end up crashing the company—innovation leaders don’t do that. Innovation leaders wear decisiveness like a captain's hat. They can confidently steer their company through turbulent times of complexity and uncertainty.

Imagine this: there’s a brainstorming session going on and people are wondering what will and won’t work. In such a scenario, a decisive leader will effortlessly sift through ideas and pick out the gems that shine the brightest. Yes, highly decisive leaders like that do exist, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to be one or at least meet one.

Real-life case study:

Elon Musk is the perfect example of the decisiveness attribute. When SpaceX was gearing up for the launch of the Falcon 1 rocket, Musk was facing a lot of technical challenges and pressure. Despite all this, he made the daring call to proceed with the launch. The result: SpaceX made a historic achievement as the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to reach Earth orbit.

And that’s how decisiveness pays off. Musk's decisive actions didn't just send rockets into space—they catapulted mankind into a whole new spacefaring era. This is like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Maybe it’s still so soon, but it’s safe to say that our future generations will enjoy traveling to space due to the action of this innovation leader.

4. Empathy

Empathy (noun): the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation. That’s the Cambridge dictionary definition of the word empathy. An innovation leader must understand the problems of others and create a solution for them. And the more empathy a leader has, the better they’ll be at grasping the pain points of their audience.

Real-life case study:

Sara Blakely, the founder of women’s shapewear company Spanx, is the best example of an empathetic innovation leader. Her journey began with a simple desire to provide a solution to a common problem among women—uncomfortable undergarments. She created a game-changing range of shapewear products that took the confidence of her female customers to new heights. Consequently, her audience rewarded her empathy with a billion dollars. That’s right, in 2021, Spanx’s majority stake was bought by Blackstone for $1.2 billion. See that? That’s how much empathy can pay you.

5. Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness is thinking outside the box or even creating an entirely new box when needed. The fact is, innovation leaders are resourceful and they get things done even in the face of difficulty. Not only this, but they also have the ability to make the most of limited resources, consistently uncovering innovative approaches to achieve their goals.

Need a team of ten to get the job done? They’ll make it work with a group of five. Need $1 million to launch a business? They’ll get it done with $500K. A lack of resources does not stop innovation leaders.

Real-life case study:

Richard Branson, the leader behind the Virgin Group, exemplifies the resourcefulness attribute. In the early days of Virgin Records, when the company had limited financial resources, Branson came up with an innovative plan to press his own records to save costs. His resourceful strategies not only kick-started his music empire but also established the foundation for his other business ventures. Whether it’s launching airlines or flying into space, Branson's resourcefulness took him to a level that conventional leaders can only dream of.

How Freelance Innovation Consultants Can Help

Are you looking to innovate and create your mark in the world? Well, then, we’ve got your back. At Consultport, we have access to the world’s top innovation consultants who can help you with everything from corporate venturing and innovation strategy.

Elevate your business with Consultport's innovation experts! Here’s how:
  • Innovation strategy: Want to craft a roadmap to innovation success and turbocharge your growth? Explore prospective new business ventures with the help of megatrends, customer insights, and cutting-edge innovation analytics tailored to your industry.
  • Corporate venturing: Uncover your company’s untapped potential by investing smart, and watch your portfolio thrive. Whether it’s financing strategy development or M&A, our experts can show you the most profitable way.
  • Corporate incubation: A Corporate Incubator consultant can lead your internal/external programs and offer mentoring and networking for projects or startups. They can strategically accelerate progress while mitigating potential risks.
  • New business models: Shake up the ‘usual way’ of doing business and plunge into new waters. With the guidance of innovation consultants, you can pave the way for an innovative business framework focused on growth, competitiveness, and relevance during disruptions.
So, what are you waiting for?

Be decisive, and get in touch with us now. Your next innovation consultant could just be a few clicks away.