Three Ways To Be An Ambidextrous Leader


CEO at StoneAge | Keynote Speaker | Thought Leader | Advisor | Author | Podcast Host | YPO Member.

The world is changing rapidly, and it’s hard to keep up. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. Being in the business of using water to clean and watching the country’s largest reservoirs shrink to almost nothing is forcing my team to consider a different future. Many leaders are doing the same in their industries, asking, “How do I build a sustainable company when the future looks very different?”

So, what kind of leader will successfully navigate these challenges? How will leaders look to disrupt their industries and avoid being disrupted themselves? How will leaders balance the old with the new, the core business with future opportunities? My answer is that we will have to be ambidextrous leaders.

According to a Deloitte Insights report, “At its core, ambidexterity is the ability to exploit present conditions by optimizing the current business model’s operations while exploring opportunities to redefine that business model by taking pioneering risks.”

I love this leadership framework because let’s face it: Everything everywhere is constantly changing. But the statement “You’ve got to embrace change” is overused and challenging for many people to do. Most people don’t want to change; the fear of the unknown is too great.

But as leaders, especially those looking to disrupt, we must embrace the inherent tension between the way things are now and how things will change in the future. We must recognize that new opportunities might not fit into an established system or manner of doing business. Embracing this tension is a recipe for success. You don’t have to throw out the old to pursue the new—at least not most of the time. But you do have to balance exploiting your current core business by lowering costs and becoming more efficient with exploring new opportunities that require investment and flexibility. You must be able to hold seemingly opposable ideas in your mind and look for ways you can do both: exploit and explore.

So, how do you develop ambidexterity in yourself and others? This is something that I’ve been working on for more than a decade, and it’s not easy, but it is worth the effort. Here are three ways to become a more ambidextrous leader.

1. Question your thoughts and assumptions.

It’s not easy to hold opposing viewpoints in your mind; many people aren’t wired to explore multiple truths and challenge their belief systems. But if you want to disrupt, you must force yourself to question your thoughts and ideas.

Here are two ways I do this that you can try, too: First, when working on a long-range strategy, write down what you think your company will look like five years from now. Then, force yourself to write five other possible futures. This exercise helps you avoid drinking your own Kool-aid, and it primes your thinking so you can recognize patterns and uncover opportunities that you might have otherwise missed. Second, when you believe an idea or thought to be correct, challenge yourself to develop five different possibilities that would prove you wrong.

Actively questioning your thoughts and assumptions helps you see that there might be multiple truths to a situation and allows you to hold those varying and opposing ideas in your mind.

2. Develop an exploit-and-explore vision.

Building upon the status quo is always easier than creating a bold new vision that requires people to change. But doing so will stop you and your organization from exploring new growth opportunities. That’s why you have to build both exploitation and exploration into your vision for the future.

At my company, for example, we develop high-pressure water-blasting tools for cleaning. It’s a very manual industry and slow to change. But we found that through automation, the process could be safer and more efficient. Transitioning the industry toward using automation, however, would disrupt the space and potentially take away from our core business of manual tools. So, before getting my team on board, I had to develop an exploit-and-explore vision that I thought was possible, that I could articulate and that would inspire my team to execute.

How can you build both exploration and exploitation into your company? Start by encouraging your team to look for new ideas and opportunities outside the status quo. This encourages an experimenter’s mindset and creativity. I also suggest continually looking for ways to bring value to new and existing customers. When you take on exploration activity, create metrics and goals that align with experimentation and growth, not efficiency and standard profit margins. Trying to conform new businesses to the way things are done in your core business will stifle possibilities.

Furthermore, hold your team accountable for decreasing costs and finding efficiencies in core businesses. Reward them for finding economies of scale and leveraging current technologies and services in more efficient ways. This encourages the exploit mindset.

Finally, talk about the tension between exploration and exploitation to make sure everyone understands where there might be conflict, and help your team navigate the push and pull they feel when trying to balance these two opposing business models. Developing executive management compensation models that reward broad company performance across both explore and exploit activities can also reduce siloed behavior.

3. Be non-uniform.

The biggest mistake I’ve made as I pursued exploring and growing new businesses is trying to force those solutions into our core business model, which doesn’t work. Not everything needs to be uniform or consistent, and trying to make it so will increase the chance that the new endeavor will fail. Be OK with different business models, cost and probability structures, and measurements of success.

When exploring, encourage risk-taking and creativity, and set goals for growth and innovation. When you are exploiting, focus on lowering costs and creating efficiencies. Wrap your head around the fact that they are very different activities requiring different structures, and allow each to grow in their ways.

If you want to be a creative, innovative and effective leader, you’ve got to develop your ambidexterity. It’s not easy, but it’s a richer path to success in these volatile and opportunistic times.


Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?




Source link

ALSO READ:  Three Tips For Building A Leading Edtech Company

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Pinterest