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10 ways to spur innovation

Tuesday, January 20, 2015  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Simma Lieberman

In this era of speed, competition and globalization, innovation rules all. You never know where the next great product, process or profit builder will originate. Good diversity management and culturally intelligent leadership can make the difference between repeatedly hearing mediocre ideas from the same people or mining the hidden genius in your organization for breakthrough ideas.

Consider these 10 ways that a culturally intelligent leader who practices good diversity management can plant the seeds of self-leadership and accelerate employee innovation:

1. Be conscious of the way you communicate with employees. Ask yourself, "Are they comfortable talking to me about their work, asking questions and giving me suggestions?" If the answer if no, you need to find out why. If yes, keep getting better at it.

Related: 3 quick reminders for leading a diverse team

Innovation often comes from the lower levels, but if you don't know how to communicate with everyone, they won't share ideas or feel invested in the organization.

2. Make a habit of interacting with the people on your team whom you may not know well, or with whom you are least comfortable. Identify the reasons for your discomfort, so you can move through it.

3. Be informed about your employees, but don't micromanage. Acknowledge the progress, no matter how small, made by people on your team. Research by Theresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer shows that employees are motivated when their managers are aware of and acknowledge even their small wins.

4. Be introspective and get real about your biases and assumptions. Your behavior that results from those biases and assumptions can impede participation and innovation. Ask yourself, "Whom am I not seeing? Do I greet all of my employees or just the ones who are like me? Do I walk past any employees without saying hello? Who am I not hearing from in team meetings, and whose opinions am I minimizing, due to bias about work level, function or salary?"

Your bias and assumptions about people different than you mean that you give credibility to people most like you and minimize the contributions of others. When employees feel unacknowledged and invisible they lose their motivation, and feel alienated from the organization.

5. Learn and recognize the different ways in which people are intelligent and contribute to the organization. Stop being stuck in recognizing and respecting only one type of intelligence (yours).

6. Let other people share their expertise, talent and experience, even when their ideas differ from yours. You may find their idea is better.

7. Let go of old parameters, limits and processes for innovation. Open your mind, expand your vision and allow for limitless possibilities when people who think differently start thinking together.

8. Create opportunities for employees from different functions, departments, levels of experience and talents to work together as equals. Managers who expect employees to "go along with the program" and just follow orders discourage creativity and innovation. When creative employees feel stifled, they will take their genius to another organization, possibly your competition, where they can flourish.

9. Welcome the excitement that comes from the synergy of ideas flowing from all directions. Employees with diverse viewpoints building on each other's brilliance will develop "the next big thing" that will set you far above everyone else in the industry.

10. Be a cheerleader for other people's intelligence when they know more about a subject or work area than you do. Who better to develop a process that makes their work faster, easier and more productive than the people actually doing the work? Who better to suggest a new product that changes lives than the people who will use it?

Cheer for yourself, because you're the kind of leader who is brave enough to let others shine and stays out of the way of oncoming breakthrough innovation.

Simma Lieberman, internationally known as "The Inclusionist” is a diversity and inclusion and culture change consultant, speaker and coach.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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