Paradoxes, Matrices, and Global Leadership… Oh My!

This globalization thing where companies are competing throughout several cultures, languages, and economies continues to throw leaders for a loop.  The idea of working across cultures, leveraging the entire organization, and accommodating shifting priorities due to shifting global economics can present significant barriers and challenge our best leaders.  Now our strategies must consider many markets, managing internal and external resources, and enable systems-thinking approaches.  Here are some of the questions any leader might pose:

  1. What style of leadership should I embrace as a global leader?
  2. What skills should I embrace?
  3. What organizational structure best supports effective leadership in global companies?

As leaders, we are being asked to embrace an enterprise model and manage paradox in a matrix organization – I warned you.

While the previous sentence is heavy and may make your head spin a bit, I am hearing the terms enterprise, paradox, and matrix everywhere these days.

So for those of you who are interested, dig in a little deeper and understand these concepts better.  First, let me describe these main themes.


An enterprise model

This model shifts the power away from a company’s corporate headquarters and enables the field offices.  In an enterprise model, the best ideas don’t have to come from HQ Research & Development.  With an enterprise, the best ideas come from wherever the best ideas come from.  Anyone can contribute – vendor, supplier, field manager, manufacturer, business partner, business unit, etc.  The enterprise model calls for leaders to leverage a broad-base of relationships, bringing many people to the table to solve a problem or pursue an opportunity.

Manage paradox

Leaders are being asked to navigate through opportunity and change more so than managing compliance.  Our command and control style worked for managing compliance, but falls flat in managing the paradox.  Paradox represents conflicting ideas or pursuits.  A paradox is a dilemma.  An example of paradox is when you’ve got to deliver on speed and quality.  Both speed and quality are good pursuits that are oftentimes in conflict with each other.  But today, leaders are expected to manage the paradox between speed and quality to meet the business goals.

Matrix organization

A hierarchical organization has a very vertical structure.  I have a boss, who has a boss, who has a boss, who has a boss.  Vertical.  Other organizations shun the vertical hierarchy organizing purely behind a project.  These organizations bring teams together to deliver a job.  For instance, building contractor companies work this way as they bring subcontractors to a building project.  A plumber shows up, so does an electrician, and a construction worker all specializing in their particular area of focus.  Horizontal.  A matrix organization does both with employees reporting vertically up through the organization and horizontally with other team members to deliver special projects – thus the term matrix – vertical and horizontal lanes.

Bringing it all together

So, as a leader, consider these points as you become a better global leader that manages paradox effectively in a matrix organization:

For the enterprise

  • Don’t just network; build relationships that you can truly leverage.
  • Communicate more – share more information with more people more often.
  • Be driven by progress, not politics.

For the paradox

  • Develop a deeper curiosity for your business – ask what if and why not from more people more often.
  • Work to a higher end game or a more important end objective.  Focus on the more inclusive value that brings system-wide value.
  • Shift your perspective by embracing the Jim Collins idea of tyranny of the OR versus genius of the AND.

For the matrix

  • Don’t just grow your area of specialty; broaden your skills to be more transportable across your business.
  • Seek stretch assignments in your organization to help you grow your value across the organization.
  • Grow comfortable having two reporting lines – one to your supervisor and one to your project lead.

Questions for you:

  1. How do you feel about these three factors and their impact on a company’s effectiveness in a global marketplace?
  2. Is there a better structure, philosophy, or model that you feel is better?

Please comment.

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Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 Corporate Culture, Leadership

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About the Author

Mike Thompson BlogMike Thompson is the CEO of SVI, a leading organizational development company that provides leadership development services to companies such as Walmart, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods, University of Phoenix and many more. Mike is also the author of McGraw Hill's new leadership book The Organizational Champion.

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