Many leaders say they want their organizations to be innovative. But saying you want to be innovative and creating a leadership culture that actually nurtures innovation are 2 different things.
Far too often, we’ve seen leaders subconsciously sabotage innovation by behaving in ways that kill new ideas. The sabotage isn’t deliberate — they really want to foster innovation in their organizations — but don’t know how to support it, and fail to recognize their behaviors which unintentionally discourage it.
9 Ways Leaders Subconsciously Sabotage Innovation
Here are the most common innovation-destroying behaviors we see:
- Discouraging creativity. Leaders often urge their people to “be more creative,” but then quickly quash new ideas, and don’t recognize the disconnect. They’re usually stuck in business thinking mode, where new initiatives require proof and precedents. Consider how you respond to a new idea; consciously shift into an “innovation thinking” mindset when evaluating new ideas, recognizing they won’t come with ironclad proof.
- Not evaluating thoroughly. Leaders don’t commit the necessary resources or systems to properly evaluate innovative ideas. Assessing creative ideas is tough and requires more time, energy, and money.
- Pushing a top-down approach. A bottom-up “pull” approach, where leaders support and nurture innovation, helps the whole organization see the successes that innovation can produce and makes more people want to contribute.
- Forcing structure and hierarchy. Innovative companies know they need the color-outside-the-lines creatives along with the by-the-book executors. Establish a healthy partnership between the “creative types” and the realists who get the job done. And recognize that to get the workers you need, you may need to redefine talent to leverage gig economy workers and other freelancers.
- Confining innovation to R&D. If you designate an innovation department or task a small group of people with innovating, you’ll fail to spread innovation across all parts of the organization, and they put the burden of managing innovation on a single group. Should you start an innovation department? No, not unless you want an innovation ghetto.
- Criticizing first. Innovative ideas must be evaluated for business potential, but critiquing them first discourages creativity. By first praising innovative ideas, pro-innovation leaders send the message that new ideas are welcome.
- De-risking innovative ideas. As ideas travel through layers of management to the C-suite, the original idea is often stripped of any risk. In the process, the real innovation opportunity can be lost.
- Rejecting ambiguity. If it were a sure thing with no unknowns, it wouldn’t be innovative. Leaders who want innovation to flourish must learn to tolerate ambiguity and refuse to fall into the feasibility trap.
- Acting like a know-it-all. Leaders who model humility are much more likely to see their employees come up with creative ideas to solve the organization’s challenges than leaders who seem as though they already have all the answers.
An innovative culture requires more than simply the absence of these 9 innovation-sabotaging behaviors. But if your organization has tried to cultivate a culture of innovation and failed, consider whether these unintentional behaviors may be part of the problem. Are you or others at your organization guilty of subconsciously sabotaging innovation?
To learn more encouraging innovation, explore Find Your Future Fluency, a new CCL thought leadership series helping you lead into the future. Or download the white paper, “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation.”