Archive for December, 2010

Thinking Outside the Building; Leading From the Space Between
Michael Jones


The artful leader thinks outside the boundaries of their own business, sector or nationality to engage challenges and opportunities that are impossible for any one organization to handle on their own.

The ‘Advanced’ Leader

Innovation usually involves studying the great leaders who think outside the box. But the leaders we need to be studying are those ‘advanced’ leaders who think outside the building.  This was a key message from Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a widely sought after opinion shaper in the areas of strategy, innovation and leadership at the 12th Annual International Leadership Association Global Conference – Leadership 2.0 Time for Action in Boston this past October.

Advanced leaders are boundary crossers. They think beyond the defined mandates, goals and outcomes of their own organization to engage and build global coalitions around ‘messes’ –those ill-defined, ambiguous and adaptive challenges that fall outside the capacity or mandate for any one person or organization to solve.

Dr Kanter suggests that; “ In an interdependent world of border-crossing and boundary-spanning, leaders must position their organizations not only in the marketplace but also in a social nexus in which sectors overlap and societal problems belong to everyone. In other words, they must understand the broader context in which they operate while also having the vision to change it. Their business savvy is still important, but by adding societal values to financial valuations they create a meaningful human institution out of a bundle of impersonal assets.” (1)

She cites Indra Nooyi, chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo as an example of an advanced leader.  Ms Nooyi is leading PepsiCo to examine the health implications of its products, partner with governments and NGOs, grow the business in emerging markets, and empower the younger generation to take responsibility early in their careers.  In the past few months, in order to deliver “breakthrough innovation” in the areas of fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy and functional nutrition, PepsiCo has also created a new and innovative Global Nutrition Group.

“The creation of this Global Nutrition Group is part of our long-term strategy to build upon our stable of brands—Quaker, Tropicana and others through which we  have been actively ramping up our innovation capabilities and developing strong partnerships with the scientific community, including with universities and research institutions around the world. I believe we are well equipped to deliver authentically nutritious products advantaged by science in an accessible and affordable way to consumers globally.” Ms. Nooyi said.

Language and Place; Portals into the Space Between

Dr Kanter’s insights on advanced leadership were congruent with the four sessions I facilitated at the ILA conference on language and place.

Advanced leaders are storytellers and story makers.  They embrace a metaphoric language of imagery that reaches across the boundaries of conventional thought.  This language gives leaders the tools to speak about what is often difficult to express.  It helps them appreciate that to lead ‘outside the building’   is to lead without a script. An expressive language helps to articulate this dilemma leaders have in speaking authentically about those experiences that cannot be contained in a spreadsheet; of vision, mystery, paradox, complexity and surprise.  Leaders who possess this power of an evocative language hold a distinct advantage over those who can only interpret their aspirations only in business or financial terms.

What further grounds the aspirations of an advanced leader is the recognition of the power of place.  These leaders are place-based in that they recognize they need to know where they come from in order to see where they are going. In a turbulent world where there are no rules, no consensus and no clear way forward, if they have no place to stand on they will lack the grounding to act wisely in the world.

Leaders who are place –  based are also ecologically minded.  This is particularly true for advanced leaders who need to lead along the margins where two or more constituencies, specialties or disciplines meet. To lead from this ‘space between’ involves navigating the threshold between their own inner world of gifts, innate talents, and strengths and the outer world of outcomes and action, of aligning our aspirations and calling with the innate life force for change and renewal, of respecting paradox and differences, of listening for multiple perspectives and risking being authentic and real as an alternative to conforming to prescribed roles and responsibilities. It is this ability to reach beyond their own expertise to access the unique power of learning at the intersections of many disciplines that distinguishes the leaders who are at the vanguard of their fields

By following the footprint exemplified by the emergence of advanced leaders we may better understand the qualities each of us are called to fulfill in order to create a positive future and a more ecologically minded worldview.

(1) Rosabeth Moss Kanter on adding values to valuations: Indra Nooyi and others as institution-builders May 4th, 2010
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