The propensity to lead without being given the authority to do so is what, in organizations, distinguishes people that can innovate and break free of the constraints that limit their competitors. Innovation is all about leadership, and leadership is all about innovation. The rarity of the one is a direct result of the rarity of the other.
Innovation is a subject whose talk:do ratio is even more out of whack than that of leadership. Upper management in most companies talks a good game on innovation. The party line goes something like this: “We need innovation to survive. It is so important. Its importance simply cannot be overstated. No sir. Innovation is reeealy, reeealy important. And innovation is everybody’s job. In fact, it is probably the most important part of everybody’s job. Listen up, everybody: Get out there and innovate.” Oh, and by the way,
• Nobody is given any time to innovate, since everyone is 100-percent busy.
• Most innovation that happens anyway is distinctly unwelcome because it requires accommodating change.
• Real innovation is likely to spread beyond the realm of the innovator, and so he or she may be suspected of managing the organization from below, a tendency that upper management tends to view with great suspicion.
The net here is that it takes a bit of a rebel to help even the best innovation achieve its promise: rebel leadership. The innovator himself doesn’t have to be a great leader, but someone has to be. What rebel leadership supplies to this process is the time to innovate—you take a key person away from doing billable work (this may constitute constructive disobedience on your part) in order to pursue a nascent vision—and the hard push for whatever reshaping the organization has to submit to in order to take advantage of the innovation.
Since nobody ever knows how the next innovation may alter the organization, nobody knows enough to give permission to the key instigators to do what needs to be done. That’s why leadership as a service almost always operates without official permission.