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Ambidextrous Leadership – Ambidextrous Innovation Training & Workshops

Dr Gaia Grant talking about The Ambidextrous Future-Ready Leadership program options

Why we need Future Ready Ambidextrous Leadership

We are living in complex rapid change times that lead to competing demands resulting in tension on how to manage this disruptive innovation & change. Many leaders will now feel the pressure of choosing between these apparently incompatible requirements, such as focusing on: breakthrough innovation or incremental development, purpose or profit, & individuals or teams.

Although it is often assumed leaders should prioritize one position over the other, the latest research has revealed that it is possible to pursue both goals simultaneously. In fact, it has been found that the most successful leaders are able to embody multiple perspectives to deal with these competing demands.

It is no longer enough to rely on simple one-dimensional approaches to deal with the challenges we face. The leaders who survive into the future will be able to thrive on the complexity and manage the tension between competing demands through ambidextrous leadership. If left unchecked the tension can tear apart a team, and if used correctly the tension can fuel healthy and sustainable innovation.


What does it mean to be an ‘Ambidextrous Leader’?

The following article excerpts help to explain what it means to be an ambidextrous leader:

Leaders that can recognize and work with these tensions are able to deal most effectively with complex problems. Ambidextrous leadership will then foster learning and creativity, build flexibility and resilience, and unleash human potential — all of which lead to higher energy and engagement and improved performance over the long term.

So how is it possible to become an ambidextrous leader?

1. Embrace contradictions

Einstein developed his theory of relativity by embracing the idea of an object being simultaneously in motion and at rest. Mozart worked with both concordance and discordance to compose inspired music. Similarly, in business, the most original and innovative ideas come from being able to see multiple perspectives and embrace apparent contradictions

2. Develop integrative thinking

The latest management research shows that the most successful leaders are integrative thinkers — that is, they can hold two opposing ideas in their heads at once and come up with a new idea that contains elements of each but is superior to both. The yin/yang idea of balancing dynamic opposing forces was actually introduced into management theory as far back as the 1920s.

3. Manage competing demands simultaneously

The challenge of balancing paradoxes has been compared to an acrobat on a high wire. To remain on the wire — that is, to remain stable — the acrobat must rapidly move from one position of stability to another. On a high wire, the concept of stability is actually constantly changing. The leaders of the future will need to be highly flexible, able to navigate their way carefully between extremes to find the best balance for any particular time and situation.

There are plenty of examples of how balancing paradoxes (paradox theory) like these in the organization can lead to superior creative outcomes. One example is from a B2B technology firm that found their operating income was boosted by 300 percent when they implemented these principles. In another example, a federal government organization that was targeted to be closed down embraced these values and became a model facility.

Will you, like the creative genius, be able to recognize and synthesize apparent contradictions to create an ambidextrous organization and lead it to success?

What is ambidextrous leadership?

Ambidextrous leadership refers to leaders who can deal with the complex competing demands of our current rapid fast change world. Ambidextrous leaders pursue rapid breakthrough innovations to ensure relevance and competitiveness into the future. At the same time these leaders also focus on the incremental developments required to gradually build systems and structures. This ambidextrous approach ensures innovation and growth is sustainable.

What is the difference between ambidextrous leadership and innovation leadership?

Ambidextrous leadership is a specific approach to innovation leadership. Ambidextrous leadership encompasses the need to pursue both breakthrough innovation and incremental innovation. Innovation leadership is a broader category that could incorporate any of a number of leadership approaches.

How can I learn ambidextrous thinking?

It is possible to develop ambidextrous thinking and eventually ambidextrous leadership by learning to identify and accept ambiguities. This is achievable through developing both/and thinking, rather than focusing on simple either/or thinking. An example might be to consider how it is important to pursue both purpose and profit – rather than thinking you need to pursue either purpose or profit.

How is it possible to create an ambidextrous organization?

Ambidextrous organizations have been designed to enable and support both breakthrough innovation and incremental change. This can usually be done in one of two ways: through ‘structural ambidexterity’, in which each function sits in different areas of the organization; or through ‘contextual ambidexterity’, in which individuals learn ambidextrous thinking and are able to approach their work as ambidextrous leaders who can address both perspectives simultaneously – no matter what their role is. If managed effectively contextual ambidexterity will build ambidextrous leaders throughout the organization and will ultimately allow for the greatest adaptability and the most sustainable growth.

What is a good definition of creative thinking, critical thinking and design thinking?

Creative and critical thinking can enable the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, provide the critical ideal starter conditions for innovation. The creative part is where the process can get messy and unpredictable. Ideas are fashioned like shapes out of clay and continually formed, destroyed and reformed through the process of experimentation. Once a specific unique form takes shape that is deemed to be potentially workable, it can then be tested, developed, matured and applied at scale through more rigorous critical processes. Ideas can then grow into robust practical innovations of value.

Design thinking is a non-linear process & set of tools for solving ‘wicked’ (unknown) problems by prioritizing the consumer’s needs above all else. Design thinking uses creative and critical thinking concepts.

What is a good definition of innovation?

Innovation is typically described as the application of ideas that are both original and practical. Innovation is a much more nebulous concept – more of an amorphous shape-shifting energy that is initiated and fuelled by a desire for improvement.

‘Innovation is finding new ways to apply energy to create improbable things, and see them catch on. It means much more than invention, because the word implies developing an invention to the point where it catches on because it is sufficiently practical, affordable, reliable and ubiquitous to be worth using.’ (Ridley ‘How Innovation Works’)

What mistakes do companies often make when they talk about innovation?

While many companies will latch onto innovation as a trend and talk about it incessantly, yet if you scratch beneath the thin veneer of the glossy brochures and websites there is often not enough depth behind the concept. Are there opportunities for creative and critical thinking – for experimentation and open investigation? Have employees been provided with the tools and skills development that can ensure this process happens deliberately rather than simply haphazardly? Are there systems and structures in place that will assist with the generation, progression and implementation of developing and implementing fledgling ideas?

There can be a hesitancy or outright fear when it comes to going deeper too. How many organizations want to fully embrace innovation when they understand the potential implications of unleashing the power of innovation in the organization (if they appreciate what it can mean in practice). Few companies therefore truly commit to supporting innovation. Although the term will invariably feature in the values and vision statements of the best and brightest companies. But what company really wants to risk challenging the status quo and committing to a destructive process that can lead to unknowable outcomes?

Additionally, many people in companies want to jump straight to the solution or final innovation and skip the creative and critical thinking stages. But then they inevitably come up with mediocre results.

(Adapted from Grant, G. & Grant, A. (2016). Why leaders and organizations need to become ambidextrous. Australian Institute of Management, August.

Are you an innovative leader? Dr Gaia Grant has developed an assessment profile (iCLi) to measure Ambidextirity in leaders, teams, and organizations


We are the original designers of interactive learning experiences created to improve individual and organisation capabilities. We focus on transformational innovation leadership – particularly ambidextrous leadership – to build a more agile and proactive innovative culture. As part of this process we equip leaders and teams with creative thinking skills and critical thinking skills through our unique researched and validated models and tools. Our original process is designed to ensure sustainable future-ready leadership development, team building, and culture enrichment.



We offer a broad range of Facilitated Online Experiences (FOEx) or virtual digital remote webinars AND live face-to-face workshops, keynotes, conferences, simulations, coaching and consulting sessions. Our sessions range from engaging independent online self -paced learning journeys for individuals through to highly interactive gamified experiential learning sessions for leaders and teams. There are also the options for strategic business facilitation and to scale up our programs for organisation-wide culture change through accreditation and licencing options. Our internationally accredited and globally located consultants and facilitators come from different business backgrounds and provide a wealth of experience.


Below are some of Tirian’s core programs  – designed to develop transformational innovation leadership though building ambidextrous leaders and organisation cultures. (see Key Topics pages in the drop-down menus)

  • Diagnostics to identify innovation leadership blocks and opportunity areas:

o   CREATE: Who Killed Creativity? Gameboard Simulation & diagnostic tool: To identify potential psychological and organisation culture blocks to creative thinking and innovation – available as an independent online self-led session or as a professionally facilitated workshop.

o INNOVATE:  Innovative Change Leader Inventory (iCLi) validated profile measure: To identify individual future-ready leadership strengths and challenge areas and to develop ambidextrous leadership capabilities – available as an independent questionnaire with generic feedback or as professionally facilitated coaching feedback session for individuals and/or teams.


  • Keynotes to introduce innovation leadership principles & motivate teams:

o   CREATE: Who Killed Creativity? keynote:  Reveals what blocks creativity– along with some strategies for dealing with these killers and reviving creative thinking

o   INNOVATE: Are you an ambidextrous leader? keynote: How to identify individual innovation leadership preferences. See the results of original research with global innovation leaders that identifies the most important qualities needed for ambidextrous leadership, and insights into how to use the results of the Innovative Change leader (iCLi) profile measure.

o   COLLABORATE: The Collaboration Deception keynote: A unique social experiment where principles of collaboration in individually incentive organisation cultures are tested and challenged and principles for deeper collaboration are uncovered.


  • Workshops and resources to develop ambidextrous leadership skills:

o   CREATE: : Creative & Critical Thinking: To provide strategies, tools and exercises for developing both creative and critical thinking. Available as:

    • Webinars & workshops: facilitated group forums – can include an integrated case study
    • Online journeys, books and resources: access to resources that assist with independently working through the tools and exercises – can be used instead of the webinars and workshops and/or as a follow up learning journey
    • Strategies for Innovative Development (SID) model: Design thinking model for facilitated business development and ongoing innovation implementation.

o   NARRATE: Mission Possible webinars & workshops: To identify the organisation vision, mission and values, and to link these to practical transformational leadership behaviours for leaders to implement.


  • Gamified Simulations to enable deep transformative culture change

o   COMMUNICATE: On Thin ICE simulation: A simulated expedition to Antarctica to identify the need for team alignment, breaking down silos, and clear communication for project work and culture change, particularly in virtual team contexts.

o   CREATE: The Chocolate Factory simulation: A simulated failed factory process designed to emphasise the importance of internal and external engagement through dealing with siloes, streamlining strategies and processes, and developing a customer-centric mindset.

o   INNOVATE: The Innovation Race simulation: A simulated global journey where teams ‘visit’ a range of countries and cultures to identify innovation best practices and find the principles for culture change that best supports sustainable innovative thinking and growth.


  • Customised strategic business facilitation, consulting and coaching: An opportunity to engage our professional consultants and coaches to identify and implement a customised strategic plan to assist with reaching your individual, team or organisation development goals.