I saw Linda Hill, Ph.D., speak at the World Business Forum and asked if I could interview her for SUCCESS. Hill is a professor of business and the faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School; she is also the co-author of the book Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation. For more than 10 years, Hill and her team studied executives from many of today’s most innovative companies—Google, Pixar, eBay and more—to see how they stayed continuously creative.
Did she find good leaders? Of course. But the style of leadership, which was remarkably consistent across these companies, was the opposite of what you might expect. An innovative chief has a vision and the ability to communicate her vision successfully to her team, who then carries it out, right? Wrong. The managers Hill studied let their staffs know that they didn’t have all the answers. When it came to the vision thing, these leaders drew ideas from intense collaboration—and when conflicts occurred, no one rushed to quash them. “You can’t think of something new unless you are being pushed to think in new directions, and you can’t do that unless you’re engaging with people who have different viewpoints,” Hill says.
This—and our article on leading innovation that’s in the upcoming April issue—have already changed how I function as an editor in chief. However, at home with my 11-year-old, who thinks she ought to be able to stay up until 10:30 on school nights (after watching a Friends rerun with me), I find that an autocratic style of leadership is still best.