Kathy Gibson reports from GovTech in Cape Town – Being in a position of authority does not necessarily equate to leadership; and this could stifle the application of innovation within private and public sector organisations.

This is according to Freeman Nomvalo, CEO of the State IT Agency (SITA) addressing GovTech here today.

“The notion of being called a leader is such a sexy notion, so people don’t miss opportunities to say they have leadership qualities,” he says. “But I want to disabuse you of that.”

The word innovation comes from the word novelty, Nomvalo says, referring to newness, bringing in something new or finding different ways to do things. “It’s about responding to challenges in an organisation and finding ways to overcome those challenges; and it’s about trying to resolve some difficulties that may exist in an organisation.”

One of the challenges associated with innovation include the fact that new ideas seldom work out first time around, but require a process of experimentation. There is also a tendency within organisations to push back against new ideas, which makes it difficult for these ideas to see the light of day.

One problem is that many organisations conflate leadership with authority, says Nomvalo. “As the CEO, I have authority; whether I exercise leadership or not is another matter.

“In many organisations there is a gap between aspirations and where the organisation is today,” he adds. “That gap is where leadership comes in. if it isn’t being closed its because exercising leadership is a difficult exercise; and it is a dangerous exercise.”

Nomvalo points out that agile organisations that encourage innovation share five characteristics. They are:

* An organisation that allows elephants in the room;

* An organisation that takes responsibility for the future of the organisation;

* An organisation that allows and encourages independent judgement;

* An organisation that invests time and resources in building capacity; and

* And organisation that encourages continuous learning and development.

“When you innovate, when you bring new ideas, you are going to expose your organisation to potential loss,” Nomvalo adds. “Be mindful that there will be some resistance to innovation. So encourage the things that close that gap between aspiration and innovation.”