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Techniques to be a Successful Innovation Leader

To be an effective ” Leader “, it’s important to recognize everyone has blind spots – which limits effectiveness and success for themselves and the business. This is typically due to nativity, ignorance, arrogance, ego, over-confidence, indifference, etc. Further, because people often don’t know what they don’t know – or worse – they don’t know what they don’t know and don’t want to know – it’s easy to understand why potential is not realized, things go off the rails, bad things happen. And if people don’t meaningfully learn along the way – especially from mistakes – very bad things happen ! Because of this and the unnecessary risks to organizations associated with these attributes (both in individuals and in the company’s culture) – it’s critically important to be pro-active in getting past blind spots. For further insights, a good read is the book Leadership Blindspots by Robert Bruce Shaw – who has worked with many organizations on improving corporate performance and innovation.

Shaw argues that every successful Leader balances two conflicting needs –

  1. Act with a confidence in their abilities and faith in their vision for their organization
  2. The need to be aware of their own limitations – and avoid the hazards that come with overconfidence, excessive optimism, and the above attributes

…. so they can see themselves, others and situations accurately.


This can be achieved by continually asking the right questions, in the right way (to identify and avoid blind spots) as follows –

  1. Use Open-ended (and minimize ” Yes / No “) questions – While Closed-end questions (yes / no) are efficient, data rarely surfaces that may be critical to understanding, context, impact, risk, success, etc. Questions are called open-ended when they allow for a variety of responses and provoke a richer discussion – to enable people to know what they don’t know, and to make more educated decisions.
  2. Don’t lead people (the witness) – Hard-charging leaders often push to confirm their own assumptions about what is occurring in a given situation and what is needed moving forward. This can result in questions that are really disguised statements, like “ Doesn’t this mean that we really don’t have a quality problem ? ” This modus operandi is problematic since it usually prevents contrary points of view or additional important insights from surfacing.
  3. Beware of evasive answers – For a variety of reasons, people avoid giving a direct answer to a direct question. This is because they – may not know the answer, do not want to provide the answer, are unwilling to appear smart, do not want to offer incriminating data, it could cause an awkward situation, lack confidence, are unsure how to accurately articulate their view, are uncertain how their insight could be viewed by others, politics, personal reasons, etc. To get past these obstacles to bringing clarity to the situation, Leaders need to keep coming back with directed questions until they get ” a clear answer ” or “ we don’t know ”.
  4. Ask for supporting data / examples – Leaders need to ask questions that enable different points of view to emerge, and at the appropriate time, clarify which insights or suggestions are based on fact versus opinion or speculation. There is a need to encourage people to say what they know from data versus a hypotheses based on what they think they know – and make sure they clarify the difference.
  5. Paraphrase to confirm / surface next-level details – One technique to push people to provide more information is to paraphrase what you are hearing. While this may result in a yes or no response, proceeding to next-level questions opens up the dialogue. Smart leaders sometimes make the point in a different way or mis-paraphrase what they are hearing in order to provoke a richer dialogue.
  6. Ask for alternatives – Another approach to surfacing non-confirming data or to expand context or increase insights is to overtly ask for an opposing point of view. A related line of questioning is to ask the respondent to alter his or her fundamental position, like “ You are asking for $10 million to grow the business or increase brand value. What more could be done if we invested $25 million ? ”
  7. Provide an opening for additional input – Leaders also need to provide an opportunity for others to offer additional input or a dissenting view. Often, the final moments of discussions are the richest, as people will wait until that time to surface what is really important to them. And by asking ” To bring the matter to closure, is there anything more to be considered ? ” provides the forum for any final insights.

Since Innovation should be ” Interesting and Rewarding “, not about ” Anxiety and Issues ” , hopefully the above suggestions fast track the educational process by avoiding the blind spots to progress.


Jan 2, 2018 – CAIL – from Innovation industry commentary