3 'Anti-Innovation' Leadership Qualities

Some approaches can crush innovation, rather than promote it


There are many articles online which list the qualities an innovation leader should possess. There are decidedly few explaining the characteristics which they shouldn't.

Let's have a look at three of the main ones.

They don't know the difference between a complaint and a suggestion

There's not always a thin line between a complaint and a suggestion. When you pull a waiter up at a restaurant and explain to him that your chicken is overdone, it's a complaint. You're not trying to impart your cooking knowledge on the chef for future orders, you want to express your annoyance that the chicken you paid for is dry, overcooked and altogether unpalatable.

The difference isn't as clear in business, something which stands in the way of many companies innovation efforts. If a leader consistently misconstrues ideas as complaints or attempts to besmirch authority, incremental change is difficult to achieve. The best leaders make a concerted effort to understand the business from their subordinate’s perspective, conceding that things which were once considered optimal can become restrictive. When it comes to innovation, there's no such thing as a troublemaker, or a complaint.

They think the world's out to get them

It's easy to spot a victim. Nothing's ever their fault, and anything that goes wrong under their leadership is part of a wider conspiracy to consign them to failure. Due to this, they rarely learn from their mistakes, choosing to dwell on the negatives.

As much of innovation is about learning from errors, this is a real problem for innovators. Leaders who want to inspire change should be the opposite, optimistic that change is for the good.

All they want to do is survive

Major tech companies - including AT&T, HP and IBM - have curbed their workforces by the tens of thousands as they look to become leaner, and more profitable. In 1996, AT&T gave 40,000 staff their marching orders over a three year period. While many companies of this size will go through periods of unrest, the impact on company culture cannot be underestimated. It breeds 'survivors' - those who dodged redundancy first time around but remain fearful that one wrong move could put them in the firing line - and a culture where change is frowned upon.

Leaders who experienced this often look for reasons not to innovate. The survival instinct in managers makes them hang onto the status quo, comfortable that a change initiative isn't going to damage their reputation. 

Chris kay small

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