Leadership is a critical aspect of our daily life and this is evident at all levels of our society. We see leadership in the public sector, civil society and private sector.
But what is leadership? There are certainly several definitions, styles and conceptions of leadership that have evolved over the years.
However, leadership is basically understood as the process of getting people to do their best to achieve a desired result. It involves developing and communicating a vision for the future, motivating people and gaining their engagement.
It may be situational, that is to say, there is no style of leadership that is considered universal because the application of a leadership style may often depend on the situation being faced.
It is in this regard that the need for innovation leadership cannot be underestimated in as far as addressing diverse and complex situations in a modern day organisation setup.
What is innovation leadership? Why is it important in an organisation? Does it exist in the country’s civil service?
According to the 2014 joint article ‘Innovative Leadership: A Paradigm in Modern HR Practices’ by Anand and Saraswati, it involves synthesising different leadership styles in organisations to influence employees to produce creative ideas, products, services and solutions.
It is not necessarily reliant on past experience or known facts but imagines a desired future state and figures out how to get there.
Innovation leadership is in fact intuitive and open to possibilities.
Instead of focusing on identifying right or wrong answers, it seeks to find a better way and to explore multiple possibilities.
It allows one to bring new ideas and energy to his role as leader and to solve the challenges. In short, innovative leaders are essentially creative thinkers with the ability to generate creative ideas which eventually become the basis of innovation.
The question as to whether innovation leadership exist in the civil service or not, or the extent to which it exists can be debatable.
However, it is important to note that there are some examples in the civil service, which apparently suggest the existence of this type of leadership.
For example, when people walks into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation at the Capital Hill, they are greeted by pictures of “Employee of the Month” from each section in the ministry.
Such awards essentially reward innovation and hard work among the employees and they eventually go a long way in motivating both outstanding performers and underperformers to be more hardworking and productive.
In the process, this leads to collective improved performance towards achieving the ministry goals.
Another familiar case of innovation leadership in Malawi civil service is that which involved the trio of Nkhata Bay district health officer, district prison officer in-charge and the district agriculture development officer who in response to food challenges facing patients and inmates due to budget cuts from the Treasury to their relevant departments decided to use part of the hospital’s idle land to grow maize and fruits to meet the deficit.
It is envisaged the yield will lessen dietary problems at the new Nkhata Bay District Hospital and Chintheche Health Centre.
Besides donating part of his land for growing maize to meet the above needs, the district health officer further convinced the prison and the agricultural officers to support the cause through their labour (prisoners) as well as technical and material assistance.
Due to such collaboration, the 2016 harvest was equally divided between the hospital and the prison.
This was a clear mark of innovation leadership.
Therefore, it can be said beyond reasonable doubt that innovation leadership matters a lot in civil service.
However, for innovation leadership to thrive, it requires leaders in ministries and departments to digress from doing business as usual.
Instead, there is need to embrace innovation leadership as part of organisational culture.