According to an IBM study consisting of one-on-one CEO interviews with over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries, about 60% cited creativity as the most important leadership quality, compared with 52% for integrity and 35% for global thinking.
Despite this statistic, we all know it is quite common for individuals to be rewarded by leaders for conforming rather than challenging the norm. Of course, this doesn’t work in the long term for either party.
For the individual, they do not feel valued and are left feeling they have more to offer but are restricted from doing so. “I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” (Rita Mae Brown)
For the leader, conforming doesn’t help progression within the business. All they get is a reinforcement of their own ideas, nothing new to work with. And that is not enough. If you truly want to elevate your organisation, new ideas are essential, especially at a time of rapid cultural change.
“The rate of change is clearly outpacing most leaders’ ability to learn and unlearn. Many leaders struggle to remain current, much less find a way to move ahead of the curve. Here’s the thing – if leaders are stuck in the past, their organisations will be forced to travel a very rough road to the future.” (Forbes)
So how can leaders ensure continual innovation in their teams?
Firstly, they should encourage and support their teams to capture ideas regularly, especially as many of these ideas originate outside of the working environment. 72% of people have creative insights in the shower (2014 study by Kaufman), others in the car or when they go to bed at night.
They should also help to foster ideas – this can be done by adopting brainstorming and creative thinking techniques within teams, but also by simply encouraging team members to try new things and network with new people.
Finally, and most importantly, the leader must have an open, positive mindset. When team members do suggest ideas, they simply cannot afford to dismiss them out of hand, no matter how ridiculous the idea may seem. By taking time to explore the idea, it may be possible to hitchhike on the back of it, changing it from ridiculous to inspired and impactful. And even if there isn’t a way to tweak the idea, better to give it consideration as this will encourage further ideas from them and others. Close them down and you’ll be innovating alone, and we all know that two heads are better than one!