Great Leadership: Ambidexterity and Systems Thinking

Great leadership is like Columbus’ egg. We recognize it when we see it, but beforehand we don’t know how it can be done—vital ingredients remain not yet fully uncovered. In this short article, we present two competencies that impact greatly on the substance of leadership: Ambidexterity and Systems Thinking.

Ambidexterity is the leader’s ability to hold and serve two opposing ideas as for example to position the firm on the one hand to compete—exploit a current advantage—while on the other hand to see beyond the current affairs the future and prepare the business for it—explore new possibilities—or, in another more mundane case, to negotiate lower prices with suppliers while promoting valuable long-term relationships with them.

Systems thinking is a leader’s ability to see, beyond the individual parts, the whole and appreciate the role that linkages among the parts play–they can carry strength from one part to another, enriching each part and overall producing a system that is in many ways more than that that was composed of its initial parts. Information is seen as the lifeblood of the system, for it is through the exchange of information over the links between the parts that the system comes to life.

And it is the leader’s job to make these parts and links strong and to ensure that the information exchange is happening in a positive, reinforcing way (culture). Further, because the org system is open to events and influences from the outside environment, it is the role of the leader to listen to and act catalytically to turn them to the firm’s favor.

But does a leader need to have both?

Ambidexterity enables a leader to see the future but without losing sight of the needs of the present, seeking [...]

Great Leadership is art


Leadership is often paralleled to conducting an orchestra where at the highs of performance the maestro enters a state of flow becoming one with his tune, his orchestra players, and the audience. Known and unknown ingredients are at play and the way these are synthesized to produce that harmony seems to go beyond our understanding. For that reason, we call a great performance by a different name, we call it art!

In the business analogy, a great leader makes himself part of the system, is sensitive to the effects of his practice–his presence and vibes touch everyone in the room—understands his role as composer and constantly seeks to create a whole that is greater than its parts.

The leader enters a state of flow and not with a baton but with strategy themes, he channels the attention of his people and establishes a rhythm that aims to mobilize their forces towards the goal.

And like the high-performing orchestra conductor, great leadership is not a matter of deciding the order of performing—which first or which next to play–but rather of composition–when and how much of each in the pursuit of achieving the whole.

For great leadership, you need to go beyond operational mastery. You need to show that you can tune to your environment, that you can practice empathy towards your people and partners creating trust as a safety net for all. You need to demonstrate that you allow your people freedom to perform, that you can communicate and share with them critical thoughts, and that you not only seek their input, but you value it as well. Help them play as best as they can, and they will in return show you how their best works for your [...]

By |June 21st, 2022|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Purpose: the linchpin between Profit and CSR

There is a widespread belief that firms must choose between profit and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). But how true is that?

Several management gurus among them Porter and Prahalad, tried to bridge the two coming up with ideas like strategic CSR and the profitable world’s poor.

The dilemma, however, comes up because our thinking fails to consider all the critical components of the case. We think of the end goals of profit or CSR ignoring preceding important principles like the founding purpose of the firm, that is why the firm was established meaning what society need it is there to serve (Business purpose—how to make it work for your business | LinkedIn ).

Markets have valued firms with society-based purposes – IKEA to create a better everyday life for the many people, Google to make information available to the wider society, SW Airlines to meet short-haul travel needs at lower costs than road transport, are but a few examples that a society-based purpose connects firms to profits.

So, through purpose, there is a natural association of Profit with CSR: The firm’s purpose serves society needs and is therefore CSR at its highest impact, and profit (proponent Milton Friedman) is the license (legitimacy) that society grants the firm to continue to operate or even grow.


Panikos Sardos is the Managing Director of P&E Sardos Business Solutions Int., a management consulting firm that offers advisory services, coaching and training. Email: or telephone: +357 99640912, or visit our site at

Business purpose—how to make it work for your business

Purpose stimulates and drives a business forward. Yet many business leaders do not express purpose explicitly in their strategic statements and are thereby not able to communicate it properly to exploit its power.

Purpose answers why we are in business and what society need our business is there to serve. We frame the answer in the so-called purpose statement—a clear, pithy, and inspiring conviction—that aims to communicate our company’s existential why to everyone inside and outside the company: “We exist to accelerate the planet’s transition to sustainable transport.” Tesla; “Entertaining the world.” Netflix; “Organize the world’s information.” Google’s first purpose.

Unlike the mission statement that tells of what our company will do and for what customers, and unlike the vision statement that expresses our aspirations as to where we aim to reach, purpose tells of our reason for business not from the inside-the-company view but from the outside, from the society’s vantage point. It precedes all the other company statements and, very importantly, serves to guide and infuse them with its spirit.

Not every kind of purpose will do the job. Purposes that a company drafts to be in vogue and that are used only in wall signs, what HBS prof Ranjay Gulati calls “shallow purpose”, will not work. Companies need as Ranjay says, “deep purposes”, purposes that reflect why the company exists and that are communicated to and shared by everyone in the company. People, regardless of position or rank, understand and embrace the purpose, remember it every time they put themselves to work, and get inspired knowing that they work for a purpose that has its roots in the needs of their society.

Purpose is not making money nor is it only applicable to social institutions. [...]

Principles – to forget or reinstate them in our modern world?


Who, the speaker asks, believe in principles? All hands are up!

Raise hands then, he continues, which of you seek to abide by principles in your everyday transactions and activities?

Silence ensues, no hands raised in a silent exhibition of some form of guilt and remorse!

Questions inescapably surface:

Why is it so difficult to apply our principles in real life?

Why do all of us, in spite good dispositions and intentions, end up calculating and valuing self-interest or self-convenience more than principles?

Why do we twist or sometimes even distort things to justify a self-interest choice, knowing very well that every time we do so, we distort together with our principles, our conscience and self-esteem?

But would it not be a utopia in our individualistic world where money and power rule, for someone to aspire to change the status quo and bring back the principles in our lives? or even a laughable act?

No matter how hard that would seem to be, there are good reasons for wanting to break the status quo.

Utopia would not be the act that aspires to a fairer system that aligns with conscience. Utopia is to think that you will always be on the winning side and never have to feel the unjust loss that the system engenders. But when fortune reverses its favors and you are no more the winner but the one that suffers the harm and injustice, then you will protest loudly about the unfairness of the system of a cynical world.

But your protests no matter how loud they may be, will not be heard. The status quo you yourself contributed to building has deafened the voices around you. Nobody can hear you, and even those that could, guilty themselves of the same, [...]

By |November 30th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

CSFs – Hitting targets that count

Who doesn’t want to know where to focus his attention and action so as to hit his targets? The Critical Success Factors, CSFs, is one great methodology to achieve that. But though most managers are enamored with the term, many admit having only a cursory experience with it and feel uncertain whether what they list as their CSFs are the right ones or even meaningful.

Some fine points from a recognized HBR article on CSFs to help readers grasp what CSFs are, are quoted below:

CSFs are the limited number of areas in which satisfactory results will ensure successful competitive performance for the individual, department, or organization. CSFs are the few key areas where “things must go right” for the business to flourish and for the manger’s goals to be attained.
CSFs are the areas in which good performance is necessary to ensure attainment of goals.
In most industries there are usually three to six factors that determine success; these key jobs must be done exceedingly well for a company to be successful.

(From John F. Rockart’s HBR article March-April 1979 entitled “The Chief Executives Define Their Own Data Needs”

Note: CSFs were first discussed in the management literature in 1961 by D. Ronald Daniel, Managing Director of McKinsey & Company).

In other words, CSFs are what a manager must selectively do each day in working to accomplish his goals. Thus, Goals very much influence CSFs. Having identified a manager’s goals, the CSFs underlying the goals will next be derived and discussed. Goals and CSFs are interrelated and can be thought together when working to determine them.

But from where should managers draw content to identify goals and CSFs? Of course, company strategy and objectives and strategy goals are very [...]

By |August 24th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Post pandemic leadership – The leader’s new work

The inrush of the pandemic took away from the ties that fastened leaders to the status quo of thinking and doing. “Structures and Systems” that supported organizations before were left behind in the evacuated office, and organizations pivoted toward their people. Leaders, now forced by the WFH to operate without the complete suite of the traditional factors of organization, suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory.

And so, a chance, has arisen for leadership to rethink itself spurring renewed attention to what a leader should have and on a leader’s work.

Views like autocratic leadership or the belief that a leader is the enlightened one who treats the rest of his fellow people as machine elements with preset precise performance, awaiting to be switched on by his instructions or orders, have been exposed by the pandemic as rickety, impractical, and even dangerous.

Evidence of how companies tackled the crisis, on the other hand, suggests that the pandemic has tipped the scales in favor of the soft-side nature of organizations bringing to the fore the people approach to leadership. How then in this approach should we view leaders?

The leader should be viewed as an architect of purpose, an integrator of effort, a teacher of learning. He is one who works constantly to cultivate trust and humility by making himself a model example. His constant concern is to bring about the ingenious self of his people turning them into lovers of knowledge and self-actualization. More importantly, however, he identifies an overarching purpose for all stakeholders to share and sets himself in the front to serve it.

Such a leader is a catalyst in his people’s operations, a respecter of talent and the whole self, an enabler to make his people achievers, [...]

By |July 12th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

The need for ambidextrous leader


When considering the purpose of organization, we must not forget the circumstances that gave rise to its creation. It was society and its needs that called for the establishment of this entity we call organization. Its contemplated role: to provide what individuals couldn’t, to provide for new products and services efficiently.

This dual-purpose -innovation for new products and efficiency in performing the task of production-is an existential reason of leadership.

Though both innovation and efficiency are critically important, there are stages in an organization’s life that make one more needed than the other. See diagram below:



Neglecting either one could have serious consequences. Focusing only on innovation will in the longer term open the door to other efficiency focused companies to take away from the innovative company the gains, whereas focusing only on efficiency will deprive the company from deploying the resources necessary for innovation.

If both, during an organization’s life, are necessary, how to go about them, is a question vexing many companies. Our suggestion is depicted by the diagram: innovate first, but after, be prepared to do the task efficiently, a sequence that in the life of the company repeats itself and leads to the fulfillment of the vision and mission.

For a sustainable company it is necessary to be good at both processes. Efficiency follows a more logical path, and it is easier understood how to apply methodologies like lean and six sigma to enhance it. Innovation, on the other hand, is rather an untamed process that has no real recipes as to how to apply it. Following the doctrine that a leader makes the company, it would follow that to do both should be a prime concern of a leader.

Furthermore, since the time when either [...]

By |June 29th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

What do you call yourself, a manager, or a leader?

Is leadership different from management? To this perennial question we would like to put forward some thoughts and at the same time ask for your thoughts to help bring more clarity to the matter discussed.

A friend the other day pondered “I am a practising manager at this big company; Am I not a leader?” It depends, I answered. Some distinguishing differences between the manager’s work and the leader’s work, we make an effort to draw in the diagram below.

The top row of boxes and arrows shows a company as it moves strategically over the long term towards its mission and vision doing so by an exchange of stages between stable situations (rectangles) and motions (arrows) that entail its efforts to change. For each of the two types of stages, the characteristics of the needed work are analysed and grouped into two distinct boxes, one under the heading “leader’s work”, and the other under the heading “manager’s work”.

It is evident that what we grouped as manager’s and leader’s works have a different set of attributes and focus.

For example, one critical difference between them is the way they appeal to their people. Leaders appeal to people’s higher needs whereas managers like to interpret their world in terms of the more specific needs. So, self-actualization, prestige, love, and loyalty are a leader’s purview while rewards and remuneration, order and risk avoidance are the more mundane control area of the manager.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

NOTE: Leaders must themselves first possess the higher needs if they will be effective in invoking them when appealing to their employees.

To help a little further the discussion, we draw on earlier questions and statements on the subject by some recognized world authorities:

HBS professor Abraham [...]

By |June 14th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Critical mass in business

Who wouldn’t want a tool that identifies problems early avoiding the inaction or complacency that comes from not knowing and not pinning down where the trouble is?

To respond to this, we introduce here the “business critical mass framework”.

Critical mass is that quantity of something that makes the desired process sustainable.

The term “critical mass” was first used in nuclear physics where it meant the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction (Wikipedia).

In business “critical mass” is the point at which a growing company becomes self-sustaining and no longer needs additional investment to remain economically viable (Investopedia).

Note, however, that the critical mass concept applies to two areas of business, the overall business and the individual processes that comprise it.

Business critical mass (overall): It relates to the customer revenues determined largely by the number of customers. They provide the income to back feed, to the necessary degree, all business processes.
Individual process critical mass: The individual business processes have also their own critical mass that is the quantity needed to make them efficient. Below that quantity, resources are not fully utilized, and processes underperform consuming more funds and thereby increasing the magnitude of business critical mass. This process critical mass, though important, is secondary.

Customer revenue

Customer revenue is the main determinant of the business critical mass and in its terms the business critical mass is expressed. A company should strive to raise the customer revenue above a threshold, the critical mass, to provide adequate feeds for all the business needs.

Business needs

A business cannot be sustained without covering its production system costs, nor can it survive without keeping current its machinery and other infrastructure, nor without advertising campaigns to attract and maintain customers nor can it survive without new [...]