Leading for Innovation

When people think of fostering creativity, they tend to think of fun stuff, humor, improvisation, mind mapping, and brainstorming. Additionally, some will advocate for re-arranging the workspace for creativity. Others will suggest hiring creative employees and moving operations to one of the creative cities. Yes, you will need all of that. Still, you will need more.


What I can tell from surveying the academic field, is that there are good places to start; leadership development. When I say leadership, I mean leadership, not management (planning, reporting, measuring). Transactional leadership (leadership based on rewards), and Lassie-faire (abdication of leadership) are really bad for creativity and innovation. Additionally, micro-managers and toxic workplaces are particularly detrimental to creativity and innovation.


So, which leadership styles work? Transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, and building high-quality relationship with one’s followers are all conducive for innovation and creativity. Finally, supporting creativity and innovation, in general, are helpful.


What about organizational culture? Creating a climate for creativity is a necessary condition, so is creating a psychologically safe work environment (see the comment about toxic workplaces above). Creating a learning organization, while no small undertaking, is particularly helpful for innovation. When I say learning, I do not mean just gaining new knowledge, though that is part of it. By learning, I mean questioning organizational mental models and assumptions and being able to change them.


So the short answer to how organizations can improve their innovation is Leadership, learning, empowerment, and psychological safety.


© 2015 Mohammed Raei