Skip to main content

Innovating in the Public Sector

The Behaviours That Matter

Innovation is a discipline that can be taught and learned, however successful innovation thrives when leaders display certain behaviours. Public sector leaders that are successful at designing and developing innovative solutions generally display a consistent set of behaviours, underpinned by key skills. Here, we share the behaviours that drive innovation in an organisation.  

The 6 Behaviours

Leaders who are future focussed can imagine the possibilities and scan the horizon for what is happening now, to inspire what the future might look like. They embrace scenario planning and use it as a tool to create a vision of how things could be. They develop questions tied to strategic priorities and use multiple, sometimes contradictory, hypotheses to test those questions.

Curious leaders are willing to embrace ambiguity and are comfortable with not knowing the answer. They demonstrate an endless willingness to learn and never tire of generating new ideas. They use new technological and social innovations to solve complex problems, and tend to be open-minded to new ways of doing things.

Empathetic leaders step into the shoes of the user or citizen, to gain an understanding of their lived experience, needs and desires. They are experts at seeking out and interacting with users, and derive valuable insights from those interactions. They inspire others, and are skilled at taking people on the journey with them by building a compelling narrative.

Rebel-rousing involves seeking out and encouraging individuals who question the status quo, creating a safe environment for contrarian thinking and challenges to established practice, and setting a clear purpose while allowing for flexibility in how the purpose is achieved. They are skilled at creating a psychologically safe environment where people feel enabled or empowered to constructively challenge.

Innovative leaders embrace diversity of views, opinions and backgrounds. They actively seek out alternative and diverse opinions across multiple environments. They are adept at making connections and set the stage for trust and engagement with teams, collaborators and co-creators.

A persistent leader does not see barriers, only opportunities. They learn fast through rapid prototyping, and fast iterations. They reflect on progress to date to inform the next step. They constantly test their assumptions, reflect and learn from the experience. They drive on towards the right solution, regardless of obstacles or resistance.

Looking for further inspiration?

Take a look at this article from IDEO, Innovation Thrives Under These 5 Evidence-Backed Conditions (

Forbes also wrote about behaviours that drive innovation: Nine Behaviors That Drive Innovation ( 

Get in touch

If you have any queries on the above content, or if you’re interested in chatting about the behaviours that matter for innovation, please reach out to with Grace Cunningham.

Did you find this useful?

Thanks for your feedback

If you would like to help improve further, please complete a 3-minute survey