Are you future-proof leader?

7 tips to stimulate more creativity and innovation among your people 

On a regular basis CEO’s tell us: ‘my personnel is not creative’, ‘they are not innovation-driven’ and ‘their innovation ideas often do not comply with the organization’s strategy….

Organizations are forced to evolve due to our fast-changing society and environment. By consequence, managers will have to stimulate their team members to contribute to this change. This implies a complete new style of leading for all team leaders (being CEO or manager or team leader).

At the front-end of innovation and change (there where creativity rules and ideas are born) completely different rules and principles apply compared to those we are used to in our daily operational environment. A future-proof leader will need to have knowledge about both styles in order to apply a context-driven leadership.

7 ground rules are listed to help you in stimulating a creativity- and innovation-driven environment:

  1. Develop a clear vision
  2. Make time for innovation 
  3. Stimulate creativity
  4. Lead by example
  5. Be accessible
  6. Decide slowly
  7. Give constructive feedback

1. Develop a clear vision

Research proves us that a clear and carried-out vision is the most important factor to predict the level of innovation of your personnel.

Many leaders apply complete freedom when stimulating creativity and innovation: ‘carte blanche’ and ‘think-out-of-the-box’ are often heard. This results in out-of-control thinking of their personnel who pop up superficial ideas, misaligned with the organization’s goals. By consequence both managers and employees will be frustrated.

Oddly enough stimulating creativity demands a well-defined playing field: this is where we want to go as an organization, this is what we want to do and this is wat we surely do not want to do. These problems need resolution and these are the parameters to be applied to the solutions. This is the framework in which we allow free-wheeling. 

That way you can focus the innovation capabilities of your people. This will result in an increasing number of quality ideas in scope. 

vision focusses innovation power


2. Make time for innovation

When assisting in an internal thinking process, the concerned manager often raises the question whether the process can be done after work-hours. Obviously, this is possible, but one should ask him/herself what signal is given by doing so.

In most cases the manager will try to avoid losing operational time. However, after years of cost-savings, most organizations are currently pretty ‘LEAN’. This has resulted in a tsunami of burn-outs. Asking your personnel to brainstorm in their spare time won’t bring a lot of enthusiasm.

Moreover, you will give the signal that creativity and innovation are rather secondary elements and therefore less important than the primary processes of the organization. The idea of after-hours is outdated and short-term thinking.

Creativity and innovation are simply time-consuming. Therefore, you as a leader should give importance to these elements, in order for your personnel to start appreciating it. A great example can be found with ‘Google’ where employees can spend 20% of their working time at projects of their choice. 

 So, the question raises: how can you create more time for innovation within your team?

3. Encourage creativity

A common mistake made by CEO’s, is to kill ideas during the brainstorming process due to their non-achievability. Where this type of early judgement is always disastrous in a team, it is absolutely killing for creativity if the manager in se utters such a statement. Death to brainstorming....

Obviously, appreciation of the given input is needed. However, managers should evaluate carefully when and how to express their opinion. Generating ideas should happen in a safe environment: this should be a laboratory where everything is possible as long as related to the subject of useful solutions.

It is your task as a manager to challenge your people to discover all possible paths, to take risk… and to fail. It is good to know that most employees do already censor themselves. They learnt so in the operational context – everything has to be a success, failing is not an option in operations.

In this context though, failing needs to be possible. There is no safe route to innovation. It is not possible to always be spot-on when generating new ideas. To quote Mario Andretti: ‘if everything seems to be under control, you are not going fast enough’. 

It is your task to push your employees, to create safe and trustworthy conditions and to give them the needed self-confidence to leave the well-known paths.

if everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough innovation


4. Lead by example 

Naturally one can only demand this type of behavior when setting the right example. No one follows a leader who encourages his directs to jump while staying at the safe side. 

Managers will also have to jump. Participate in the experimenting, failing, the messing up. This might sound scary to many leaders. They do not want to lose face. They assume it might infirm their authority. On the contrary: it will make you human.

It is therefore important to be authentic. This is a characteristic of all leaders that inspire us. These leaders are needed when embarking on an uncertain journey. 

5. Be accessible

We are all very occupied. Particularly us managers. Running from meeting to meeting, answering emails and messages. And all of this with a closed door in order to be able to focus. 

This is a common mistake. If you applied the 5 previous actions, there is a big chance that your employees are now brooding on some disruptive ideas. Ideas that can change the future of your organization. But how would you ever find out or be able to coach them, if you keep your door closed? If you don’t make time? 

Access to management within your organization is crucial to harvest ideas.  And as any farmer can tell you: you can seed as much as you want, if you do not harvest, there will be no money in the pocket. 

In addition, it is important to enable the access as high as possible within the management-chain. The more management-levels an idea has to overcome, the less chance it will ever reach the top. Moreover, the more disruptive the idea, the more chance it will die an early death. 

So, put your door wide-open for all ideas and communicate to everyone that they can count on you in this process.

6. Decide slowly 

You have a risk of making decisions too quickly. When an enthusiastic employee runs into your office and starts to explain his or her idea, it might be you immediately reflect on costs and execution. So, you take a decision on the spot. You decide to reject the idea before the employee can even complete his/her story.

Because that is how you became a manager: your ability to decide quickly and under pressure. 

And this is where the challenge lays: this is again an operational reflex. Deciding quickly makes sense in operational environments. However, in the context of creativity, other competences are needed. 

All leaders suffer from the ‘creativity bias’: even if we explicitly proclaim creativity, we will opt for the safe and well-known options when it comes down to it. And when deciding quickly, the bias increases. 

There is an easy solution though: give yourself the time, there is no need for fast decision-making.  Thank the employee without judgement. Book a meeting for next week to give feed-back. After a few days, decide supported by the right parameters (being visionary, strategically or innovative). Only afterwards, you provide feedback. You will notice that ‘at first scary’ ideas might seem a lot less scary after reflection.

apple vision: we believe in saying o to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important to us


7. Give (constructive) feedback

If all the above goes well, you will find yourself in the luxurious position to have more ideas than the organization can manage. This means you will have to say NO many times. 

Consider Apple’s statement “We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us”

But how do you say NO without discouraging people. You do not want to stop the flow of ideas. On the contrary, you want your employees to feel valuable, to have learnt from their idea and to be motivated to come with an even better one next time. 

  • The most important aspect is to give feedback to everyone, particularly if their idea has not been chosen. Employees will feel discouraged if their contribution is not appreciated. You will have to acknowledge their efforts. If not, there won’t be as many ideas next time….

  • Next, it is important to be honest. Explain the how and the why of your decision. People will appreciate your honesty. Moreover, it is important to relate the feedback to the subject and not to the person!

  • Finally, feedback does not only include the downfalls. Describe the positive aspects of their idea as well. As such, your employees learn what to keep and what to change. 

Pieter Daelman

cromax framework evidence based management

Evidence based management

As in everything we do, these tips are also based on our evidence-based Cromax model with which you can map and optimize the innovation culture within your organization. Read more about Cromax here.



Do you want to brush up on your leadership skills in creativity and innovation? Or do you manage a team and want to improve your facilitation skills? Check out our leadership trainings



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