Creative LeadershipCreativity

Why Bureaucrats Fight Innovative Thinking

I’m sure you’ve experienced it – a middle manager in your company, nonprofit, or church who would do anything to torpedo innovative ideas. It’s certainly happened to me, and very few things in a career are more frustrating. You can see it in action in the new dramatic CBS TV series “Clarice” where a young but obviously gifted FBI profiler is constantly held back and marginalized by an older, more senior detective.

So why does it happen, and why is it so frequent? Let me submit three reasons :

1) In far too many cases, mid-level employees and bureaucrats are generally not very innovative. After all, if they were, they probably wouldn’t be mid-level employees or bureaucrats. They’re simply not willing to take the risks innovators are comfortable with, and look at everything from the negative. What if it goes wrong? What if it makes me look bad? We have a saying that at Hollywood studios nobody ever gets fired for rejecting ideas or projects. They only get fired if they say “Yes” and then the movie fails. It’s simply safer to say “no.”

2) Saying “I’m wrong” may be the two most difficult words in our vocabulary. Even if the manager sees your idea will work, it may undermine decisions he’s already made – which means he’ll look bad. Again, it’s probably not worth the risk.

3) If your idea works, it could elevate you instead of him. Insecurity is a far more deadly problem with co-workers than you may think. When confronted by another employee with original or innovative ideas, an insecure manager or leader only considers how your success will impact him. He worries that his boss will promote you or start going to you directly. You’ll suddenly have access, which could be the start of his decline. Obviously, that’s completely wrong, because the ability to recognize and reward creative thinking only makes a manager or leader look sharper. But insecurity can be blinding.

Big dreams scare small minds. - Brandon HendricksClick To Tweet

So what can you do if you’re continually being stifled by a mid-level manager that’s holding you back? In my experience, there’s really only two options:

1) Make him look good – even if you have to let him steal a few ideas. It’s frustrating, but once he feels that you’re on his team and not a threat, he’ll become much more open to your ideas. In some cases, he may even get comfortable enough to give you more visibility and freedom.

2) The other option is to find other pastures. I’ve fired a couple of clients over the years because the point person I worked with was so insecure he sabotaged our strategy. The old saying that “You should go where you are celebrated, not just tolerated” is true. If you can’t change that mid-level manager, it may be time to start looking for a place were your crazy ideas are valued.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

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