Innovation Leadership Skills: 6 Questions Great Leaders Ask Their Employees S14 Ep26

Creativity In A Box -- The Killer Questions Card Deck

A key mission for an innovation leader is to motivate, support, and help your teams learn good innovation habits.  This should occur daily with each interaction. Modeling leadership habits and exhibiting leadership skills inspires employees to become leaders.  In today’s show, I share six questions I ask my employees. These questions encourage good habits and sharpen innovation leadership skills within my organization.

innovation leadership skills

I weave the questions into one on one meetings with my direct staff and skip levels (those who report to my direct staff).  The questions reflect an innovation culture that is essential to success. Another element of refining the innovation culture is organizational objectives.  This year, my organization is redefining objectives. Using the objectives and key results framework (OKRs), focus is on the long-range vision.  This promotes thinking long term rather than on annual goals that tie to budget, pay raises, and bonuses.  To build a high impact innovation organization, you need to instill good leadership skills and habits in line with long-range goals.  So, here are the six questions that can help move your organization in that direction.

Six Questions to Ask Your Employees

1. What went well since we last met?  

Once you ask the question, sit back and listen.  Give employees the opportunity to relate their successes and share….

  • What their priorities were.
  • Where they made good progress.
  • Who played a key role in that success.
  • Who helped, even outside the team/department.
  • What's next.

Offer sincere support and appreciation.  Stay in the loop on where they're heading.  Provide coaching and mentoring. Reinforce that innovation is a team sport.  Help them get into the habit of giving credit to others who’ve contributed to the team’s success.  Giving credit to others is vital to good innovation leadership skills.

2. What went wrong and what did you learn from it?

We will always have things that go wrong, mistakes that happen.  Nothing is completely in our control.  The key is to put it on the table. Don’t hide it when things go off course.  Encourage employees to share what went wrong and what they’ve learned.

The benefits of doing this…

  • Others in the organization can learn how to avoid the same or similar pitfalls.  
  • They’re in good company.  Good innovation teams tend to have an 80 to 90% failure rate.  
  • It’s liberating for the organization if leaders are willing to share their mistakes or failures.  
  • It shows support for experimentation.

3. What did you find that was broken or could be improved?  What did you do to fix or improve it?

This gives people permission to go fix things.  IF YOU SEE IT, FIX IT.

What employees learn from this:

  • We are all in this together.    
  • Don’t find something wrong, then point to someone else to fix it.
  • Silos and turf should not exist.  If you can fix it, don’t worry that it’s not in your department.

4. What did you do to help create a motivating environment?  Who did you catch doing something right?

When someone pitches an innovation idea, what is the reaction?    In our organization, we give out gift cards to recognize employees’ efforts and good innovation habits.  

To create a motivating environment…

Good leaders find people who are doing right.  Then they reinforce it by acknowledging it publicly.  This shows others what habits and actions to strive for in their team and organization.  

5. What roadblocks are you facing that I could help clear for you and your team?

As a leader, your job is to be the filter, sifting out things that hinder team productivity.  Roadblocks can be anything from issues with purchasing to a cumbersome process for expense reporting.  Nothing is too insignificant. If there is an admin issue they’ve tried to resolve, but can’t, you as the leader should step in.  Leaders should remove the barriers so that their teams can stay focused on what’s important. Don't let sand get in the gears and slow things down. The pace of innovations is accelerating.  We have to find ways to drive productivity and efficiency.

6. What else would you like to talk about?

This open-ended question allows your employees to share something that might be weighing on their mind.  It gives you the opportunity to see where you could make a difference.  One of my organization’s core values is “candor with respect.”  This gives employees confidence to be honest and transparent free from concern about negative reactions.  Protect confidentiality so employees feel they can open up. I’ve had employees present challenges in their personal lives.  In some cases, I’ve been able to help. The results have improved employee morale and generated positive change for the organization.

I hope these questions will help you inspire innovation leadership skills in your sphere of influence.

Want to share your experiences and learn from others in the innovation world?  Join The Innovators Community.

Five Minutes to New Ideas

Can you be the De Beers of your industry? De Beers has steered the diamond industry for over a century. Fantastic marketing has shaped and responded to customer needs and criteria, creating markets where there were none. Their products are imbued with emotional value and the perception of real value.

Listen to this week’s Five Minutes to New Ideas to consider how you might do the same in your industry.
Five Minutes to New Ideas is now available as a standalone show.  It’s designed for the creative mind looking for that next great idea.  Listen on Apple iTunes, Spotify or at PhilMckinney.com.

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