Can a CEO Hinder Innovation?

Leaders define their organization.

That a CEO could hinder innovation seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t a CEO’s job to lead, to pioneer even when necessary? But depending on the personality and strategy of a CEO, innovation can be harder or easier. So what do you need to know about yourself as a leader, and the leaders you work with, to better innovate?

The Personalities of CEOs

An analysis from Innovation Leader finds there are four basic archetypes of CEOs: The Visionary, the Streamliner, the Cheerleader, and the Advocate. The good news is that all embrace certain forms of innovation while challenging others. For example, the Streamliner looks for innovation that cuts costs or makes the company more efficient but can struggle to see the value in a new approach to the industry or a bold step away from the norm of current products.

There are, of course, many different factors or approaches. Recently failed products, tightening budgets, a focus on the short term to bolster the business in the current quarter, a suddenly aggressive competitor; all of these things can play a part in how CEOs approach innovation. So, how should you approach innovation, looking at these archetypes and how you fit into them?

Changing Your Approach

The first step is to look at your past approach to innovation. As we said, each overall approach has benefits, to some degree, whether it’s offering clear and open support of innovation ideas or encouraging certain forms of innovation. But each also has drawbacks that, over time, will seem obvious. Have you encouraged innovation among the ranks, but focused your time and resources on other matters, like the Cheerleader does? Do you have a long view of innovation but tend to focus more on the short term, like the Visionary?

leading is tough. Innovation doesn’t have to be.

Next, consider how you can address these drawbacks. Every leader has a different set of circumstances to innovate with, so consider what makes your company, and the innovation you need, unique. Really, this has much to do with innovation itself. You need to look closely at your current processes, pull back and look at it from a global perspective for strengths and weaknesses, think through potential solutions to them, and then implement and refine those solutions. Bubble Wrap sat on the shelf for years as wallpaper and greenhouse insulation before somebody realized it solved a major problem in the shipping industry.

Keep in mind, there is no perfect innovator. We often hear about the brilliance of Steve Jobs, but nobody discusses the thousands of Apple Lisa computers he supposedly buried in Utah after it failed, or Apple’s ill-fated first foray into a phone that downloaded and played music, the Motorola ROKR. Taking multiple approaches to challenges is part of the innovation process. Not every approach will be ideal, or they wouldn’t be challenges.

What’s important is that you keep up the process both of innovation, and challenging yourself and your employees to keep improving how you innovate. Innovation is the fundamental building block of success, after all, and you need to be as fresh and smart in your approach as you are with innovation. Need help? Join our newsletter!

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