Nurturing innovation

risk taking“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, and that means you’re not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win.” –John W. Holt, Jr., author of Celebrate Your Mistakes

A key to leading innovation is to encourage risk-taking among your team. Yet, in a study I reviewed from Blessing White, they found that at least half of all leaders struggle to effectively drive innovation and encourage risk-taking. They also found that even the most skilled leaders and the most talented employees are often held back by an organization’s culture that rewards short-term results, punishes failure, impedes collaboration, and rejects change. Even more disconcerting, in telephone surveys of 1,190 US and UK employees, only 26% said that they are often and regularly encouraged by their manager to look for new solutions or to take risks. Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Have you felt like you and your team have been stymied by competing priorities, fear of failure, lack of collaboration, or resistance to change?

If so, as a leader, what can you do to nurture innovation?

Here are a few ideas gleaned by leadership experts and researchers at BlessingWhite:

  • Align your team. Communicate a clear purpose that supports your organization’s mission, strategy, and priorities over and over, so that you avoid irrelevant creativity. Then encourage your team find better ways of doing their jobs.
  • Inspire action. Be a role model and take risks. If you fail, openly share your story and lessons learned and your team will be more likely to follow your lead.
  • Coach the right behaviors. Encourage and vet ideas. Help employees prioritize. Recognize and reward success, by regularly acknowledging small successes.
  • Trust and build trust. Extend trust to your employees to take the right risks. Listen to your employees ideas with openness. And turn failures into lessons learned.

If your part of the organization clings to status quo or punishes risk taking, it will require an extra dose of courage on your part to lead innovatively. Even so, I encourage you to start small by removing obstacles for your employees, discussing and resolving silo or turf conflicts, and building off of incremental successes.

What is your greatest challenge in leading innovation and encouraging risk-taking? And what strategies have you used to support innovation and risk-taking?

Anita Rios

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