When a leadership team commits seriously to prepare an organization for a new future, one or more people must richly embody the elements of what we call the positioning struggle – the twin concerns of identity and viability[i]. These leaders take responsibility for the articulation of the scenarios, declaration of priorities, and definition of strategic tasks.
There is no right way to be a leader in this kind of endeavor; it is possible to lead effectively in a multiplicity of styles. The central operational concerns of the leaders are another pairing of strange bedfellows like viability and identity. On the one hand, they must construct a narrative interpretation of the situation of the enterprise, its resources and possibilities, and a path to the future, and on the other hand, they must assemble or collect the power that will allow the leadership team and the organization to successfully produce the future it seeks.
[i] The “Positioning Struggle” is our way to point more richly at what the authors of Ambidextrous Organizations refer to as the challenge of simultaneously “looking backward” and “gazing into the future”. Our interpretation is that the underlying concerns of what they point to are the inevitable concerns for viability and a distinctive identity that will allow customers to continuously distinguish what is “better” about “our” offerings. In fact, to do either well – looking backward, or preserving the competitiveness of the legacy business, and looking forward, or innovating requires a management team to be extraordinarily sensitive to both the past and the future of the organization. Our interpretation is that the authors of Ambidextrous Organizations have done an oversimplification that is good for readers of the Harvard Business Review for grasping an important issue, but deeply inadequate as a basis for making important investments.