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Great Leaders Are Ambidextrous, Are You?

Execeptional leaders a team players, good listeners and visionary.

By Melvin Greer, Managing Director, Greer Institute There are many important characteristics of great leaders. Team players, good listeners and visionary are clear hallmarks. But being ambidextrous is required now more than ever. Ambidextrous leadership is a balanced approach where flexible leadership behaviors that lead to better business outcomes are the rule. Ambidexterity is the ability to engage in innovation (exploration) and operation (exploitation) equally well. But these are two very different yet complementary leadership behaviors.

  • Exploitation: Reducing variance, adherence to rules, alignment and risk avoidance
  • Exploration: Increasing variance, experimentation and failure, value alternatives and risk taking

And why is ambidextrous leadership required now more than ever? Leadership is in crises and leaders are facing an increasing set of complex issues. This crisis manifests itself in a lack of employee engagement and retention along with lower market share and business performance. According to 2013 Ketchum Leadership study there is an unambiguous crisis of confidence in leaders. According to the survey, just 24 percent of people around the world believe leaders overall are providing effective leadership. Poor leadership directly hits sales, and in 2012, 60 percent of people boycotted or bought less from a company due to poor leadership behavior. This assessment indicates that today's leaders have neglected leadership behavior that fosters innovation in favor of operational performance. We are experiencing an innovation gap where today's leaders have neglected leadership behavior that fosters innovation in favor of operational performance. What makes ambidextrous leadership hard is that innovation is a complex and non-linear activity. There is a dynamic lifecycle and pace of innovation, combined with situational variability. This requires leaders to develop temporal flexibility-the ability to know when to do what for maximum business impact. Given the focus on innovation, today's leaders are encouraged to develop a 21st Century Leadership model, which emphasizes ambidextrous leadership. So what does it take to become an ambidextrous leader?

Here are some key first steps:

1. Develop an ability to harness disruptive innovations. I've identified four disruptive innovations that are impacting leaders and leadership. IT knowledge has traditionally been confined to the IT department, but not anymore. Today any leader should be able to read a P&L or interpret and operate a balance sheet; they should be able to understand how technology will impact the business strategy of their organization.

2. Drive innovation via workforce and talent. Innovative leadership requires systematic innovation; a tight linkage to the development of a strong workforce and the development of future leaders, students via a robust science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline. The book, 21st Century Leadership, drills down to illuminate what makes leaders so good at innovation and talent, and describes how to move an innovation strategy from "chasing shiny objects" to a powerful, sustainable cultural change and create a magnet for great talent. The goal is to mature new leaders and inspire future innovators. This is how we, as leaders, turn this disruption from a challenge into an opportunity for business growth via innovation.
By taking these steps we can close the innovation gap and avoid leadership behavior that atrophies innovation in favor of operational performance. We can truly have ambidexterity leadership and engage in innovation and operational activities equally well.

The Boston Consulting Group in its top 20 most innovative companies for 2014 ( listed firms like Samsung, Tesla Motors, Dell and Intel.  These companies are working to drive operational performance and innovation to their clients benefit.


( This post was written as part of the Dell Content Partners program, which provides news and analysis on technology, business and gadget-geek culture. I've been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent Dell's positions or strategies.)


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Kevin Jackson, founder of the GovCloud Network, is an independent technology and business consultant specializing in mission critical solutions. He has served in various senior management positions including VP & GM Cloud Services NJVC, Worldwide Sales Executive for IBM and VP Program Management Office at JP Morgan Chase. His formal education includes MSEE (Computer Engineering), MA National Security & Strategic Studies and a BS Aerospace Engineering. Jackson graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1979 and retired from the US Navy earning specialties in Space Systems Engineering, Airborne Logistics and Airborne Command and Control. He also served with the National Reconnaissance Office, Operational Support Office, providing tactical support to Navy and Marine Corps forces worldwide. Kevin is the founder and author of “Cloud Musings”, a widely followed blog that focuses on the use of cloud computing by the Federal government. He is also the editor and founder of “Government Cloud Computing” electronic magazine, published at To set up an appointment CLICK HERE