What Hinders Innovation? A Leadership Culture of Fear

At the conclusion of my webinar Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast I ask the question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

How many of us limit our potential and thus reduce our level of employee engagement because we fear repercussions from our behavior or judgement by our peers?

In many workplace cultures, a culture of fear governs people’s behavior. We fear not having enough which can lead to control and greed. We fear not being appreciated, loved or respected enough which can leads manipulation, and blame. We fear not being good enough which can lead to bureaucracy, information hoarding, and silo mentality.
When it comes to innovation and creativity, how many of us will not put forward an idea out of fear of not being right, or we wait for that one piece of data that will ensure it’s acceptable. And eventually the idea loses its timeliness and the opportunity for collaborative inspiration passes.

An excerpt from the book Conscious Culture , by Joanna Barclay
A few years ago, Shell CEO Peter Voser laid out a bold vision for Shell to become the most innovative energy company. Inspired by this call to action, chemical engineer Mandar Apte, part of Shell’s Game Changer program, designed the Empower initiative – an educational, staff-led curriculum that uses meditation exercises sourced from the International Association for Human Values to build individual capacity and enable creativity and innovation.
Apte: “Innovation starts with an idea, a hunch, a gut feeling. You don’t really know whether it’s going to be successful or if it’s going to fail unless you try it. You keep doing small things one at a time and you have small wins. Even failures tell you something, so you go back and you analyze. Innovation is a process.”

And with Empower, staff are provided with tools to develop greater emotional intelligence and inner resilience to improve focus and overcome failure.

Apte: “One has to learn how to drop the old habits, the old ideas, the old concepts, and taking a pause from the business of today, create a gap in your mind from the train of thoughts. That’s what meditation allows you. It gives you tools and techniques to pause. The second step involves social processes and interpersonal skills. If you can invoke compassion or empathy in yourself, where you are not judging yourself, you’re not criticizing yourself, nor are you judging somebody else, then I think there is a space for insights to be created. These qualities are crucial for grooming your own innovative skills and nourishing the innovation culture in an organization.”

The challenge for leaders is how to measure the return on investment, and gauge the impact and success of programs like Empower. At Shell they decided to capture anecdotal evidence through stories of empowerment that changed the culture and people’s work habits.

Apte: “Some stories are about how people have been able to make unique connections. By nature they may not have chosen to interact with somebody else, but through the Empower techniques, they have built connections that are beyond their traditional skill pool. It’s through such connections that you can start thinking about non-traditional ideas. That is how you can leverage someone else and together, co-create something. It’s not an “I-win-and-you-lose” world. It’s a world where I need to think about how I can win and how I can make you win. The third kind of story we measure is when a group of staff have gone through the Empower program and then they organize a workshop for their peers… creating a culture of empowerment around them.”

What impact has Empower had on helping Shell employees become better leaders?

Apte: “I think everybody is a leader and everybody strives to do the best they can. The Empower program, because it is based on breathing and meditation techniques, is a tool-set that you walk away with and can practice every day. It’s like running a marathon. You have to do the meditation practices every day to build your capacity to overcome the blocks to your own innovation and creativity. Secondly, regular meditation practice helps develop positive habits that will support you and the company to be creative and more innovative. I think Empower has provided these self-development tools to staff and empowered them to play a role in the innovation culture”.

Be sure to visit our Resource Center for valuable leadership development resources

Our E-learning Seminar – Building Your High Performing Workplace.

To find out what your personal values are that empower you to higher performance and productivity, take a Free Personal Values Assessment.

To learn how well aligned you are with the culture in your organization contact us for an – Individual Values Assessment

To learn how to map, measure and manage the culture of your team or organization with our Culture Value Assessment for Teams and Organizations.

Leadership Speaker Joanna Barclay (2)Leadership Speaker Joanna Barclay (2)Leadership Speaker Joanna Barclay (2)Contact Us Joanna BarclayJoanna Barclay, Speaker, Author, Leadership Consultant building high performing values-driven organizational culture.

With 30 years in business transformation working with organizations, Joanna’s passion lies in working with leaders, facilitating active participation in organizational change, developing resourceful teams and aligning strategic objectives. Her goal is to help organizations become high performing and values-driven, where people take ownership, build commitment and bridge communication gaps. As CEO of the Culture Leadership Group, she ensures successful transformation from concept through to implementation.



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