Is Your Leadership Style Shutting Down Your Innovation Team?

BY Kathy Crosett
Featured image for “Is Your Leadership Style Shutting Down Your Innovation Team?”

Change or die. This is the mantra of many businesses facing disintermediation in the marketplace. Whether you’re running a media company or a book-​publishing company, you need innovative ideas to generate revenue in the years ahead. Often, these ideas come from a new style of thinking and from team members who are willing to suggest unusual solutions. To make this happen, you’ll need to adjust your leadership style enough to give team members a sense of psychology safety, according to Rita Gunther McGrath, an associate professor at Columbia Business School.

Old-​school leadership usually  was about driving the team to success and criticizing people who didn’t keep up with expectations. In today’s business world, more enterprises want to model themselves after lean, fast-​moving start-​ups. These flatter organizations also call for a more inclusive and welcoming leadership style.

Part of the shift to innovation requires a willingness to take risks and accept change. This means establishing a culture where people believe their ideas will be considered. If your company’s culture hasn’t accommodated acceptance of alternative styles of thinking and idea generation, it’s up to you to make the change.

One way to help employees feel safer is to reach out in writing. Have team members make suggestions and recommendations to you privately in emails. They may feel safer providing ideas when they are not sitting across the table from someone who intimidates them. This strategy also allows people time to think about what product enhancement might work best or which new product line the company should explore.

To encourage risk taking, take the time to reveal your personal experiences. In writing, or at the start of a meeting, share an anecdote about that time you didn’t listen to the administrative assistant who told you the current product was doomed, and how that person’s advice turned out to be exactly right. If you admit your mistake and what you learned from it, team members are likely to see your offer of non-​retaliation and non-​judgment for any ideas they come up with as sincere.

If your meetings have always been about allowing interruptions, put that to an end. A colleague may have a great idea, but may hesitate to offer it, because John the sales manager always puts him down. Before an innovation meeting begins, outline the rules – such as no interrupting whoever has the floor. When one of your more aggressive members tests that rule, shut him down.

A good innovation team will be comprised of members from many levels and departments in your organization. An even better team will be the one that feels safe in verbalizing their true thoughts and ideas.