#419  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 8          August 1999

Are You a Lateral Leader?
by Paul Sloane, M.A., M.I.E.E.

Mr. Sloane (residing in Camberley, England) is Vice President International for MathSoft Inc.  He has authored eight books on lateral thinking and lateral thinking puzzles, and he speaks on the use of lateral thinking in business. His home page is dspace.dial.pipex.com/sloane.

There are many styles of management.  Different CEOs with markedly different styles can be successful in similar companies or in the same company.  The same person might adopt different styles in different circumstances.  For example you would not manage the Cub Scoutsí softball team the same way that you manage a project team to update your companyís computer systems.  There is no one correct way to manage. Ultimately the right way to manage is one that works for you and which works for the organization in delivering the goals you set out to achieve.

It is always worthwhile to step back and review your personal management style and to ask how effective it is in managing your team and achieving your collective goals.  As an aid in this process, letís contrast two extremes of style that we have designated as the conventional leader and the lateral leader.   The conventional leader is easily recognizable as goal-oriented, authoritative, and decisive who is well suited to a structured regime (e.g., the military).  The lateral leader, on the other hand, adopts a different approach to reaching goals.  He or she is much more focused on the creativity and innovation of the team. 

To which end of this spectrum do you belong?  If it is the conventional leader, then perhaps you should consider adopting more of the lateral leaderís precepts and approaches.  The conventional leaderís approach is fine for improving operational efficiency in a well-defined environment.  However, the more innovative your organization needs to be, the more of the lateral leader you should be.  

Key Concepts for the Conventional Leader Key Concepts for the Lateral Leader
Action:     an activity, deed or operation. Thinking:     the process of forming, conceiving or resolving in the mind.
Result:  an outcome, decision, win or loss. Creativity:    the ability to bring something new into being through the force of imagination.
Improvement:    a change for the better, the process of making things more efficient or more valuable. Innovation:    the act of introducing or implementing something new or revolutionary.
The Conventional Leader.... The Lateral Leader....
Leads from the front. Leads from the side.
Directs. Inspires.
Uses conventional methods and seeks to improve effectiveness and efficiency. Develops new methods and seeks to change the rules, change partners or change the approach to the problem.
Thinks he knows best (and often does). Harnesses the abilities of others.
Has a strong sense of direction and purpose. Has a vision and uses it to inspire others.
Spends more time on improving day-to-day operational matters than strategic issues. Spends more time on finding new strategic initiatives and partners than on solving operational or day-to-day matters.
Gives directions and orders. Ask questions, solicits suggestions and delegates.
Looks for greater efficiency, more productivity, faster development, more aggressive sales and marketing. Looks for new ways to do things, new approaches to the customer, new solutions, new partnerships.
Treats staff as subordinates. Treats staff as colleagues.
Is decisive, often without prior consultation. Solicits views and inputs before making decisions.
Builds an effective team of managers who can execute policy and implement plans. Builds a team of creative, entrepreneurial individuals
Focus on actions and results. Focus on directions and innovation to achieve results.
Instructs. Empowers.
Hires based on experience, proven track record and qualifications. Hires based on experience, creativity and latent capabilities.
Discourages dissent. Encourages constructive dissent.
Cares about results above all. Cares about ideas, peoples and the "vision".
Promotes himself as the leader and figurehead with press, customers and outside world. Shares exposure and prestige with the team.
Encourages action, activity and work. Encourages ideas, innovation and fun.
Rewards performance. Rewards creativity.
Is numbers-oriented and analytical. Is ideas-oriented, analytical and intuitive.
Sees technology as a means to do things better, faster and cheaper. Sees technology as a means to do things entirely differently.
Overrules ideas and initiatives which he sees as flawed or wrong. Encourages all initiative and often implements ideas or suggestions over which he has misgivings.
Communicates through memos and e-mail. Communicates through open discussion.

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