9 Ways Senior Leaders Subconsciously Sabotage Innovation

From Center for Creative Leadership

Many organizations say they want to be innovative. But saying you want to be innovative and creating a leadership culture that nurtures innovation are 2 different things.

Far too often, we’ve seen senior leaders behave in ways that kill new ideas. The sabotage isn’t deliberate. Many leaders don’t know how to support innovation, and they fail to recognize behavior that discourages innovation.

Here are 9 of the most common innovation-destroying behaviors we see.

  1. Leaders say “be creative,” but quickly quash new ideas. These leaders are usually stuck in business thinking mode, where new initiatives require proof and precedents. Leaders must shift into an “innovation thinking” mindset when evaluating new ideas, recognizing they won’t come with ironclad proof.
  2. They don’t commit resources or create systems to properly evaluate innovative ideas. Assessing creative ideas is tough, and requires more time, energy and money.
  3. They push innovation through 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. More people then want to contribute.
  4. Leaders don’t establish a healthy partnership between “creative types,” who may dislike structure, and executors who maintain the systems by which companies operate. Innovative companies know they need the color-outside-the-lines creatives along with the by-the-book executors. Walt Disney wouldn’t have been successful without his brother Roy making sure their company was financially stable.
  5. They confine innovation to the R&D department or a small group of people. Such restrictions fail to spread innovation across all parts of the organization, and they put the burden of managing innovation on a single group.
  6. Innovation saboteurs criticize first. Innovative ideas must be evaluated for business potential, but criticizing them first discourages creativity. By praising innovative ideas first, pro-innovation leaders send the message that new ideas are welcome.
  7. Leaders allow innovative ideas to be de-risked. As ideas travel through layers of management to the C-suite, the original idea is often de-risked. In the process, the real innovation opportunity can be lost.
  8. They reject 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.
  9. Leaders act as though they already have all the answers. Leaders who model humility are much more likely to see their employees come up with creative ideas to solve the organization’s challenges.

Innovation requires more than simply the absence of these 9 innovation-sabotaging behaviors. However, if your organization has tried to cultivate a culture of innovation and failed, these unintentional behaviors may be part of the problem.