Jens Maier is Lecturer at the University of St. Gallen, Fellow at London Business School (Centre for Management Development) and the Founder of CE Convergence Engineers.
He is the author of “The ambidextrous Organization-exploring the new while exploiting the now”; Palgrave Macmillan; 2015 and will be presenting a keynote session at #MCE55 Event in April (19-20 April 2016).
Convergence between markets and technologies happens around us. The perfect Storm of ubiquitous Technologies (smartphones, cloud computing, big data, social media and the internet of everything), often characterized as „digitization” is by itself challenging enough. When coupled with a megatrend such as aging population, the implications are felt across most industries.
MCE: You’ve introduced "the ambidextrous leader” as a viable concept and a “must- have” for today’s successful corporation. But doesn’t the evidence indicate that a lot of senior managers can’t use even one hand effectively to steer the corporate boat?
Jens Maier (JM): Sure, there are always exceptions: that individual leaders fail at running the existing business smoothly. However, years of benchmarking, continuous improvement, black belts etc. have helped to raise the professionalism in most industries. Therefore, I have observed that senior managers have become quite proficient at using the hand of “exploiting” the current business.
Now, the perfect storm of technologies such as smartphones, cloud computing, big data, social media and the internet of everything has a huge impact on the future of most existing industries.
This current phenomenon, often summarized as digitalization, creates new competitors in the existing business and is simultaneously offering opportunities for new businesses. Therefore, organizations are challenged to develop the capability of exploration. It is no longer just about playing existing game better, shaping game is now required. In shaping game organizations are fighting for relevance in the next phase of their industry. Witness Nokia and Blackberry fresh in our minds as examples for organizations struggling to move beyond efficiency to stay relevant.
Relevance therefore is the result for an organization’s capability to reconcile exploitation (efficiency in the existing busing business) and successful exploration of new opportunities beyond today’s core business. Organizations have to develop the organizational “bandwidth” to reconcile exploitation and exploration.
MCE: What’s your recipe for getting respect as a leader? What would you mandate/demand that CEOs-in waiting MUST experience, learn, adopt or get enthused about on their way to the top.
JM: Respect is earned and due when a leader can demonstrate both authenticity and adaptability. In the book I use the analogy of the T-model. We find that initially first time team or project leaders tend to repeat the leadership behaviour that brought them success in the previous assignment. If the “hammer” was successful, in the next, larger assignment a bigger “hammer” is being used. This brings leaders success in their functional area of expertise or to stay with the analogy, as long as the challenge presents itself in the shape of a nail... However, we have learned about the high levels of de-railment that take place at the transition from the vertical line of the T-model to the horizontal line, the transition from functional specialist to general manager.
At the level of general management, the CEO role is just the broadest version of general management, a leader has to demonstrate additional competencies such as “influencing”.
This means that the leader has to develop the necessary “bandwidth” of behaviors over and beyond the preference for the “hammer”.
Now, in the current age of “digitization” the need for developing bandwidth in leadership behavior has been added one important new dimension, the requirement to be able to do both “exploitation” and “exploration”.
In their role as leader, individuals are required to prepare their organizations for the future, in short to innovate. Now, as leaders progress in their careers they usually assemble a good track record around exploitation, the continuous improvement of processes and products. However, in the age of digitization, exploration as a key competence has to be acquired. Again the new dimension for increasing personal bandwidth is the competency to do both exploitation and exploration.
MCE: We keep hearing about phrases like soft skills and mindfulness, but it’s a tough, real-world out there. Doesn’t the ambidextrous leader need an iron fist in a velvet glove to gain respect? So how do you reconcile these opposites to be the real leader so many of us want to follow?
JM: This is where the idea of individual bandwidth comes in: There are times when a leader has to apply the iron-fist, or the hammer. This may be necessary to apply exploitation. However, during our times of digitization, when it is important to explore new approaches, the competence to develop a vision, a point of view is also critical. This exploration competence includes winning the hearts and minds of followers, includes influencing inside and outside the organization. This could be described as the velvet glove. This means that leaders have to develop their individual bandwidth to be adaptable to both exploitation and exploration requirements and to stay authentic.
MCE: If you could sum up your book’s message in one phrase that any would-be leaders should keep in mind everyday to repeat as a mantra as they start their day’s work, what would it be?
JM: Ambidexterity is about personal and organizational bandwidth – what do I do today to improve both my personal and our organizational bandwidth.
#MCE55 Event 19-20 April 2016: Accelerated solutions for building organizational relevance and connectivity in a disruptive world.