The litmus test for innovation leadership

People are the biggest barrier to innovation. Be it the executive who dominates every conversation, the one that talks but doesn’t walk the talk or the one that kills all ideas just because it’s not in his/her best interest. Unfortunately that’s the sad truth about how innovation dies in large organizations; there are people who kill innovation.

Conventional leadership won’t get you to innovation. Many conventional leaders, such as Eric Schmidt of Google, are best equipped to run the day to day business but not to create the machine that will take them to the future. That is a fact you can count on. The best you can do, as a conventional leader that is responsible for innovation, is to create the conditions necessary for innovation to happen, hire brilliant people and then get the heck out of the way.

Of course, this is rarely the case. In my consulting experience, I always get to sit down with the top dog or girl of the organization when businesses have asked me to help them develop their innovation capability. For that meeting with these business leaders I come prepared to ask them some questions, but two of them stand out the most; they are the triggers for action.

The two questions are:

  • If I were to go out and ask every employee in the organization if you inspire them to bring their best everyday, will they say yes and why?
  • If I ask you to tell me who in your organization are innovators or potential innovators, could you tell me who they are and why?

These questions are very simple, but the response I get are eye game-changing for the business leader. Some have even felt insulted when I ask them these two questions as tough I’m unearthing the truth about their leadership ability; which is exactly what I’m doing.

These are successful business leaders, but precisely because they are successful they’ve fallen into complacency; resting on their laurels. They’ve become keepers of the status quo, more inclined to lead from a position of authority; rather than lead from within.

Bottom line: To change the status quo you have to question assumptions, that includes looking within yourself to shake your own bones. Try it, it’s good for you. The truth shall set you free and everyone will be better because of it.

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  • sunilmalhotra

    “These are successful business leaders, but precisely because they are successful they’ve fallen into complacency; resting on their laurels. They’ve become keepers of the status quo, more inclined to lead from a position of authority; rather than lead from within.” This is so true. Experience clouds leaders’ minds with a thin veil of past knowledge that they mistakenly believe to be valid; because something worked in the past won’t ensure its success going forward. In this sense past experience is overrated. A great leader’s job is to facilitate, guide and provide ingredients to help people to reach their own potential. Nothing else is necessary, imo.

    • Indeed, Sunil. A leader’s job is to the create the conditions for others to be great, again and again.

      Cheers!