Get out of the way

Several tech giants have tried out the 20% passion project – Google, Atlassian, 3M and the like.

The concept is simple – employees receive about 20% of their work time to work on creative projects of their own liking. Often, these projects don’t have any relevance to the company’s core business (Atlassian is a software company, and ‘refined beer’ was one of its 20% projects). Nevertheless, these companies were able to reap rich rewards. Some of Google’s best products – Gmail and Google News – resulted from its 20% projects.

The key factor for success in such initiatives was that employees were allowed to innovate without formal management. But what does that tell us about leadership?

The traditional definition of leadership is to ensure that a team is ‘doing the right things’. It is to show people the way. Creativity, however, flourishes when leaders get out of the way and let people express themselves.

Leadership in an innovative firm in the 21st century is less about ‘showing the way’ and more about ‘getting out of the way’.

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