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:

9-behaviors-that-subconsciously-sabotage-innovation-center-for-creative-leadership-ccl

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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?

Find Your Future Fluency

 

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.”

 

7 thoughts on “Are You Guilty of Subconsciously Sabotaging Innovation?

  1. Robert Stewart says:

    This is a great personal checklist of leader behaviors that quell innovation. I plan to use this as part of the leadership development training program within my organization. I find that be listening to, and entertaining my workforce’s inputs on ideas is a great motivator. Often we include them in the discussions of how to implement new ideas and if we do not use their inputs, we will explain why we chose a certain course of action. By keeping them informed, they are more likely to continue creative and constructive inputs. It also helps us develop their critical thinking skills, because they understand why a course of action was taken.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      Exactly! Thank you, Robert. Glad you found this valuable.

  2. Robert Stewart says:

    This is a great personal checklist of leader behaviors that quell innovation. I plan to use this as part of the leadership development training program within my organization. I find that be listening to, and entertaining my workforce’s inputs on ideas is a great motivator. Often we include them in the discussions of how to implement new ideas and if we do not use their inputs, we will explain why we chose a certain course of action. By keeping them informed, they are more likely to continue creative and constructive inputs. It also helps us develop their critical thinking skills, because they understand why a course of action was taken.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      Exactly! Thank you, Robert. Glad you found this valuable.

  3. Great call-outs on things that make the innovation field become sterile and for me the topic #4 is the one that in the end really kills any innovative mindset or initiative. I have seen in many organizations that wants to be innovative a fear of failing that stops all innovation attempts. You study the product, service and process and start the brainstorming. Then you can have one or two C-level sponsoring the initiative but when it goes up in the corporate ladder the villain appears: “ok, it’s a good idea and could work… BUT what’s the gain and when we will see the RESULTS?” whereas for an innovation to become a culture the organization must embrace the fact that it will take time and a lot of trial & error until you arrive to a profitable innovation. The journey itself is more important than the outcome most of the times and it’s a long process to achieve mastery in any innovation journey… this is why I still struggle when it comes to this innovator’s dilemma as Clayton Christensen says in his book. Good discussion though and for sure needs a comprehensive approach. Thanks for sharing

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