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Have You Created the Ideal Conditions Teams Need to Innovate?

“Trust and risk are two sides of the same coin,” says bestselling author, Oxford lecturer, and trust expert Rachel Botsman. She explains that if you want people to take risks, “you need high-trust environments and high-trust teams.”

For businesses that already are experiencing risk due to the recession, encouraging your teams to engage in more exposure seems counterintuitive. Yet calculated risk associated with innovation is exactly what’s required when organizations experience disruption. In fact, management consultant Margaret Wheatley argues that the two are closely linked:

“The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—are the primary sources of creativity.”

If problem-solving is a must during these uncertain times, how might leaders create ideal conditions that support creative freedom? Exemplary leaders must exhibit a positive influence on the people around them so they feel trusted and empowered to ideate. My experience has taught me that a culture of trust is formed when you model humility, honesty, and heart—or what I call the “3H-Core.”

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These three traits create trust-bearing conditions for innovation:


Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” A humble leader who is self-aware knows they don’t have all the answers. Assembling teams to gather intelligence, demonstrating good listening skills and open-mindedness, and understanding that a growth mindset leads to competitive advantage add up to intellectual humility and a culture conducive to creativity.


Research tells us that most people prefer directness and candor. When we’re direct with others about our limitations and our aspirations, people respond to this potential gap so they can add value to the team. A further boon to innovation is that honesty is among the five secrets of the most innovative companies, according to Leadership IQ founder and bestselling author Mark Murphy. He says vast amounts of resources are saved when team members can be honest with each other about ideas that promise liftoff and projects that should be jettisoned.


I equate having heart with humanness. Are your interactions humane with others when they’ve put themselves on a limb to present a new idea? Do you couch constructive feedback with encouragement? Research shows that people will work harder for a leader who exhibits warmth. Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy adds that “employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.” While most people assume competence is the most important quality in in the workplace, “warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people evaluate you.”

Many organizations are digging deep to reinvent how they reach customers and serve clients when social distancing doesn’t allow for business as usual. Innovation is at the rescue when reinvention is required, but have you created a trusting climate where risk-taking is welcome? Consider the 3H-Core and how you might lean into the great people you’ve hired, be direct about what’s worth pursuing, and humanely give feedback so teams are invigorated by the psychological safety you’ve created.


  1. Mark Hopkins

    You nailed it with this one, Walt. I couldn’t agree more. A leader who lacks even one of these is will underachieve.

    Reply to Mark Hopkins

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