Lateral Leadership: Ignite your Team's Potential
by Paul Sloane

Many CEOs are focused on improving efficiency, controlling costs and delivering better operational performance. They are working extremely hard in tough conditions. But they are acting as managers not leaders. Incremental improvement in the existing operations is not enough. In addition to improving current operations, leaders must spend time looking for entirely new ways to do things. They must find and implement different and better ways of meeting the overall goals. They should be starting bold, new initiatives - some of which will fail and some of which will succeed. Above all, they must inspire and empower their people to take a creative approach to new opportunities.

Sometimes the situation you are in is so tough that you just cannot work your way out of the problem. You have to think your way out of the problem. But most organisations are resistant to rapid and discontinuous change. They operate as they have operated in the past. It is as though they learnt to walk from A to B and now they are finding it tough to walk from B to C. So they try to walk faster. They work harder and try to improve efficiency but they are still not getting there. Instead of working harder they should be working smarter - and differently. There is a better way of getting from B to C than by walking - maybe it is cycling or riding or driving or taking a helicopter. There is a better way of reaching your organisation's goals and if you look hard enough you will find it. But you cannot look in a new direction by staring harder in the same direction.

The lateral leader is the kind of person who can create a climate of creativity by inspiring people to have the confidence to take risks and who can help them develop their skills in creative techniques. These leaders paint a vision for the organisation, communicate it and derive goals and objectives from the vision. They spend enormous effort on the culture of their team to make it open, questioning and receptive to new ideas.

The Three Platforms of the Lateral Leader are:

  1. The Vision - a shared view of the destination to which the business is headed. It should be short, inspirational and readily understood to everyone. The Leader constantly reinforces the vision.

  2. The Culture - which empowers individuals to be entrepreneurial, open to new ideas, questioning of all assumptions and boundaries and with a positive attitude to managing risk.

  3. The Process - which includes; practices in place to generate a wealth of new ideas from routine improvement to crazy initiatives, response mechanisms for suggestions, funding for prototypes, evaluation methods to gate resource release

Leaders in every sector have a responsibility for initiating and directing change. Everyone has the shared responsibility of changing the business to make it better equipped to meet its changing goals and to keep finding innovative ways to deliver its objectives. Just doing better what you do today is not enough.

To do this requires a different style of leadership, lateral leadership. The conventional leader is fine when what is needed is command and control of a well-defined process. But for rapid and discontinuous change the lateral leader is better equipped. He or she focuses on developing the skills of the team in innovation, creativity, risk-taking and entrepreneurial endeavour. The lateral leader manages change by initiating it.

Paul Sloane was MD of Ashton-Tate and CEO of Monactive. He is the founder of Destination Innovation, which focuses on creative leadership. He writes and speaks on lateral thinking and innovation. He is the author of The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills published by Kogan-Page. Visit for additional information.

The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills:
Powerful Problem-Solving Techniques to Ignite Your Team's Potential

by Paul Sloane
Kogan Page, Limited
July 2003

Many more articles in Creative Leadership I and Creative Leadership II
in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Paul Sloane. All rights reserved.

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