30 November 2022 |

The innovation leadership trap


While Derek spoke, Janet became annoyed.

He told her about a new CRM he wanted the team to adopt. He didn’t say it, but she knew it was her responsibility to onboard and train the team, and then make time to answer questions as the team started using this new tool.

Her neck turned red as she made a few notes before quietly walking out of the room.

The door shut. I sat down in the room alone with Derek, who stopped watching Janet and looked out his window.

“This is what I’m talking about. I ask her to do one thing, and she gets mad. I pay everyone on my team good money, and nothing gets done around here unless I step in and do it myself.”

His comment surprised me. I observed the team briefly before the meeting, and Janet was the captain of the ship while Derek was out. I saw her check five things off her to-do list in the 30 minutes I sat in the office waiting for our meeting to start.

“It’s been months since I asked her to get the website updated, and I can’t even remember the last time I heard about progress,” Derek continued. “I hired great people to help her, and things still aren’t getting done. I’m starting to think she is the wrong person for the job.”

I looked through the window in his office and saw her catching up on emails while she ate her lunch.

I sat down to chat with Janet after Derek left for a meeting.

“I think I’m losing my mind,” she told me. “I just finished training the team on a new CRM three weeks ago, and now he wants to change it up again.”

“Does this kind of thing happen often?” I asked.

Instead of responding, she opened up her OneNote tab with his name on it and scrolled through a list that didn’t end.

“These are all his idea. As soon as we get started with something, he calls in with a new idea and expects us to drop everything and start working on something new.”

“Have you tried to give Derek this feedback?”

“He doesn’t listen to anything I say. I need so much help I don’t even know where to start. Every time he calls, I get anxious because I know he is about to give me some new task to get started on immediately. I don’t get the chance to finish anything.”

Inconsistency leads to confusion and distrust. And it’s impossible to lead a team without trust. If you enjoy being an agent of change, remember there are people on your team find fulfilment in completing tasks.

Great ideas die every day because teams can’t execute. Your team needs to see you are invested in seeing them carry projects through the finish line. 

If innovation is your strength, you want to continue thinking of new ways to improve your organization or business. But don’t let it be at the expense of your team’s ability to execute.

Here are a few ideas for the master innovators out there:

  • Find safe spaces to talk about your new ideas and initiatives.
  • Keep a journal to explore the pros and cons of ideas before communicating them to your team.
  • Let your team know when you are brainstorming so they don’t feel like they need to shift their priorities.
  • Remember that saying ‘Yes’ to one thing is saying ‘No’ to hundreds of things.
  • Be aware of your team’s bandwidth. Make sure you understand what tradeoffs are being made when you assign them a new task.

What advice do you have for innovation masters?