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Culture is Crucial: ILC Dover

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Business leaders share how their company culture drives innovation

ILC Dover famously outfitted the Apollo 11 astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin seen here, in their moon landing. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NASA

All that transpires at ILC Dover stems from innovation — the true heart of what we do. We’ve designed and engineered products that solve our customers’ complex problems since 1947. But successful innovation requires more than a great idea, flawless design and precise engineering. It also involves a culture of innovative leadership. 

According to business consulting firm Accenture, “Innovation can be a company’s most powerful tool and a key driver of value. Yet many executives, fearful of the risks inherent in pursuing edgy new ideas that may not succeed, hesitate to unleash its full potential. They prefer, indeed, to renovate rather than to innovate.”

Failing to innovate is risky business

If a business shies away from innovation and managing the risk that comes with it, that business will struggle to hold a leadership position in its industry. Continuous and creative innovation is essential for a growing and profitable enterprise.

For a business to have success, and for a senior leader to have success, it’s essential they surround themselves with great people. Leadership development is how these people continue to expand their capabilities. Individuals with the greatest potential to be innovative leaders should possess many of these qualities:

  • Phenomenal integrity.
  • Selflessness — not looking for what they will get out of a project, but for what they will be able to do collectively with their team.
  • Guts. I’ve never met a truly good leader who wasn’t willing to try things that they weren’t sure they could accomplish. They push the envelope and encourage their team to do the same.
  • Patient persistence. Innovation can be risky, and not everyone has the same risk tolerance as the leader. It is critical to lead persistently (applying constant pressure) while also being patient, allowing the team to stay synchronized on the effort. This balance is one of the most critical aspects of leading innovation and change.
  • Being a great communicator.

Wasted potential

Potential must be nurtured. Because everyone learns differently, you have to understand what motivates them. How do they learn best — through coaching and training, or through experience?

I like to give potential leadership candidates challenges like a management role in a project, program or event. It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to lead by compelling their team to achieve rather than just leading by authority alone. It helps them discover what they are truly capable of, build self-confidence and push the boundaries of what they can accomplish. It forces them to be innovative.

Unexpected innovators

A successful organization has innovative leaders at all levels and you should know who they are — particularly critical when you’re trying to do change management. Not everyone that’s a supervisor is a leader, and not everyone that’s a leader is a supervisor.

There are people at all levels whom others watch to see how they will react to organizational changes and increased goals and objectives. And if you can engage them in the change process, they become an incredible resource in the company to help others understand that “the place we’re going to” is worth the risk.

‘Aim low, boring — aim high, soaring’

An innovative leader is essential to seeing opportunities not only across the organization, but well beyond. They give their teams objectives that stretch them out of their comfort zone and keep them learning and growing; and keep them stronger, more creative and more effective. When it comes to growing a culture of innovative leaders, don’t lower expectations to meet performance. Raise the level of performance to meet expectations.

Fran DiNuzzo is CEO of ILC Dover, which is recognized globally for its flexible containment solutions, including the spacesuits that went to the moon in 1969.  ILC Dover was recently acquired by New Mountain Capital.

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