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Transformational leadership style: Why CEOs don’t innovate

Transformational leadership style: Why CEOs don’t innovate

Why don’t CEO’s innovate? The transformational leadership style needed for innovation includes leadership skills beyond effective plan execution. A global survey reviewed in the Harvard Business Journal said this about innovation in organizations:

The problem? Most employees believe that management does not inspire them to do great work — or give them the opportunity to do so. Fewer than half of those in the lower ranks who have the chance to think through an idea believe they have access to the necessary means to execute it: money, staff, and support.

I don’t disagree but I’d add another major deterrent- the CEO’s fear of uncertainty and unintended outcomes like  these:

  • We’ll have to divert resources from what we know works to something that might not succeed.
  • Management will lose control.
  • Nothing is gained from failure.
Transformational leadership style transcends uncertainty. Research that Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey present in their book Immunity to Change demonstrates that core values we have can morph into unconscious concerns that undermine our goals. CEO brains aren’t immune to this human phenomenon. Core CEO value: I’m responsible for success.

Can you see how this core value might undermine a CEO’s stated goal to support an innovative organization?

  • If my core CEO belief is I’m responsible for success, I have a fear of letting people down. Better to have faith in what’s working than squander scarce resources on a loss I can’t quantify.
  • If my core CEO belief is I’m responsible for success, I believe control protects me from being blind sided by unintended consequences.
  • If my core CEO belief is I’m responsible for success, I don’t want to fail. Failing is a breach of my responsibility for success.
The authors describe this tension between core values and unconscious beliefs as an underlying immunity to change.

Modeling a transformational leadership style

If you aspire to be a transformational leader so you can innovate, start with your personal immunity to change response.

Each  of these fears can be effectively confronted with the right transformational leadership coach supporting you.

Each of these “risks” can be mitigated in an organization’s whole system approach to innovation. A transformational leadership style transcends strategic planning and embraces the soft skills needed to Shepard an innovative culture.

There are talented people willing and able to create what’s next if you engage them.


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