After 7 years of intensive study, including doctoral research for the last 4 years, I have finally had my thesis accepted and am enjoying sharing the exciting results of my research. The research involved intensive qualitative case studies with two organisations over a period of 18 months, along with interviews with over 60 global innovation leaders and a series of surveys with thousands of international participants. As a result I was able to develop a number of leadership models and tools, including an ‘Innovative Change Leadership (iCLi)’ profile measure.
In summary, my research identified that there are 3 critical factors required for leading in contemporary rapid change contexts for sustainable innovation and growth: Ambidexterity, Alignment and Agility. I am introducing the three factors here, then over the next three newsletters I will explain these three concepts in more detail.
Complex rapid-change contexts are now a reality. So how is it possible to deal with the competing demands successfully?
To manage the challenges, future-ready leaders will to be able to balance the competing demands of both ‘exploration’ (future breakthrough thinking) and ‘preservation’ (maintaining systems and structures to support growth) for sustainable innovation and growth. An awareness of the need to balance both of these orientations simultaneously is known as paradoxical thinking. We tend to think in ‘either/or’ terms, that either we need to explore future opportunities or we need to deal with current needs – but instead we need to pursue both exploration and preservation.
This ‘paradoxical thinking’ skill will be essential for holding the tension between the two polar positions. Effective ambidextrous leaders know how to stretch themselves and balance their teams and organisations according to these two orientations.
There can be a great deal of tension between individuals in teams who hold these polar positions.
This sort of tension can become a destructive force and can threaten to rip a team or organisation apart. Yet if channeled well, the tension can actually fuel sustainable innovative growth.
Magnetic alignment can provide the dynamic engagement required. This involves having a clear shared core purpose-driven story based on strong values that integrates both polar positions simultaneously. As an example, one organisation I observed talked about planning for ‘consolidated growth’. This concept brilliantly captures both ‘exploration’ and ‘preservation’ orientations.
Leadership teams, and in particular leadership duos, can build flexible platforms between the two polar positions through a series of relational practices. I labelled the practices I observed in successful leadership teams as ‘Dynamic Polar Positioning (PoP)’.
These practices are a series of reflexive actions that continue to hold the competing demands in tension through changing contexts. These actions can enable leadership teams to be highly responsive and agile.
Shared leadership models are ideal for providing flexible platforms for development. While single leaders are rarely able to manage competing demands effectively, shared leadership models can better manage the inherent ambiguities of sustainable innovation and growth.
More to come on how these principles can work in practice!