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Authors of the Text "Dynamic Leadership Models for Global Business"

Interview with Peter Smith & Tom Cockburn of the Leadership Alliance Incorporated

By IGI Global on Nov 21, 2012
Interview with Peter Smith & Tom Cockburn of the Leadership Alliance IncorporatedAs global business systems expand and become more complex, challenges of effective direction and leadership in global business grow in the same way. IGI Global recently announced the January 2013 release of Dynamic Leadership Models for Global Business: Enhancing Digitally Connected Environments written by Peter A.C. Smith and Tom Cockburn. This book highlights the leadership abilities needed to become an effective professional in business environments.

Peter A.C. Smith is President and CEO of the Leadership Alliance Incorporated, a skilled consortium of international authorities who service the needs of public and private sector organizations worldwide. His co-author Tom Cockburn is a Senior Associate at the Leadership Alliance. IGI Global recently conducted an interview with these gentlemen in regards to their forthcoming publication and their unique views of global business leadership.

IGI Global: You hold to a different concept of leadership than is commonly acknowledged. How did this come about?

Peter Smith: In a very early part of my career, I was responsible for optimization of various highly complex chemical-plant processes using statistical design and analysis where the “obvious” combinations of controls often produced poor results. The key to the optimization approach was to intermittently slightly change variables under our control in order to see their individual impact and, in particular, to elucidate their interactions with one another and with unforeseen variables. In this way, an optimal direction might be inferred and followed. From time to time, the variables were more drastically changed to ensure that we were not cycling around a false optimum. This ‘suck it and see’ approach provided reasonably dependable, optimal day-to-day plant operation, whilst providing an invaluable body of practical experience that could be drawn on to recognize impending disruptive patterns or provide grounds for a quick intuitive response when a sudden major problem occurred. This concept of experimentation, reflection, learning, unlearning, and adaption, together with having a familiarity with at least as many variables as I can envisage in any given system, has significantly influenced my leadership approach, and my experience is reflected in this book.

Tom Cockburn: The Scottish poet Robert Burns—who wrote the lyrics of Auld lang Syne sung at New Year in many parts of the world—also wrote in 1785 that “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley”, meaning ‘plans often go awry’. I have occupied a number of leadership and management roles over many years, both outside and inside of academia and in a variety of cultural contexts. I observed in these roles that the standard operating procedures based on assumptions of stability used for planning often also went awry to some degree and had to be modified to take account of the increasing speeds at which paradigm shifts occur in many global business contexts. As a result, I have often been obliged by the emergent challenges inherent in diverse and complex contexts to re-evaluate my own initial responses and interpretations, drawn from my past experience in other places and at other times. Generally, this challenging process has been a major benefit insofar as it has enriched my learning and, crucially, my ‘unlearning’ of older habits of thought or former assumptions.

IGI Global: You focus on many different aspects of leadership and organizational effectiveness in this book. Which areas interest you the most?

PS: I am most interested in Complexity and Systems Thinking since without an appreciation of their theories and practical implications, one cannot gain full advantage from important organizational approaches such as innovation, Web 2.0, knowledge management, demographics, etc.

TC: I’m interested in complexity theory, the dynamics of effective leadership of teams and, related to that, forms of tacit as well as explicit knowledge emergent in discontinuous change circumstances. My doctoral research was into the emotional learning involved in building a high-performing team ‘personality’.

IGI Global: Why do you feel dynamic leadership is such an important concept in contemporary business environments?

PS: Dynamic leadership is an important concept because it appropriately addresses the dynamic complexity that is particularly prevalent in today’s global business contexts. Dynamic leadership may imply being ‘forceful’, but in this situation I prefer to think of it as ‘not having fixed mental models’. This is very important in contemporary business environments where whatever can go wrong seems to go wrong. Dynamic leadership helps to ensure that a leader is not constantly surprised by events having a major effect, or that after the fact, such events will be inappropriately rationalized even with the benefit of hindsight, e.g., Black Swans. The dynamic leader expects the unexpected, and through day-by-day efforts builds robustness against negative events and the capability to exploit positive ones.

TC: ‘Splendid isolation’ is not feasible today as many reclusive countries and sundry dictators are discovering, precisely because of the interconnected, complex, and co-evolving character of the global business context today. That interconnected character is seen in the supply chains sourcing materials, knowledge, and personnel across continents. The global strategic business alliances also amplify both positive and/or negative effects of innovations and of factors such as the rapid spread of pandemics or terrorism across borders, of global population growth and demographics as forming a part of the ‘collaborative advantage’ (or disadvantage, perhaps, in [cases] like the Eurozone), with ripple effects directly affecting lifestyles and opportunities in many other countries and regions.

IGI Global: In your opinion, what impact will Web 2.0 and social media have on organizational leadership over the next ten years?

PS: This is a question on which to base another book! The short answer is ‘huge’! At the very least ‘power over’ will be vastly undermined and ‘power to’ will be vastly enhanced. Web 2.0 and social media contribute significantly to the promotion of the open sharing cultures on which depend so many desirable intra- and inter-organizational initiatives, and so much organizational uniqueness and advantage, and the impact of Web 2.0 and social media on the manner in which organizations operate and how business is conducted will change profoundly; this will demand significant changes in organizational leadership. As Tom and I describe, particularly in Chapter Ten of our book, we can already see signs of this in forward looking organizations, where leaders are crucially concerned with not only themselves understanding their organization’s vision, including the impact and leverage associated with emerging technologies, but effectively communicating this [vision] to all employees. These leaders seek to align people with their broader ideas of what the company should and could be in this new era of technological and social change, and enroll them in collaborating to realize this vision. Such leaders have the courage to admit they are not omniscient and are open and concerned with experimenting, learning, motivating others, building trust, and engaging in the tasks and activities necessary to achieve the strategic global vision of their organization.

TC: There will be a form of ‘democratisation’ of leader behaviour in terms of strategizing through practice (though hierarchies of ownership of businesses will likely remain in some form). Web 2.0 and 3.0, including ubiquitous socio-digital technology developments, will bring opportunities for monetization of assets previously unused, greater collaboration and complexity-augmented reality impacting human lifestyles, health, and relationships as well as aspects such as living/working spaces to focus on intelligent, technology-enabled collaboration on the move.

IGI Global: What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing leaders (both corporate and political) today?

PS: I believe that the most complex problem and the greatest challenge facing leaders (both corporate and political) today is attaining triple bottom line sustainability at every level from local to global. Apart from the obvious difficulties, this entails a significant underlying challenge, which is the widespread belief among leaders that there are simplistic ‘answers’ to this and innumerable other challenges when the best one might hope for are honest, well-founded questions—the wrong answer to the right question is infinitely preferable to the right answer to the wrong question—and serious timely experimentation, reflection, learning, unlearning, and adaption. [It has been] a long while since April 14, 1912, but the Titanic Syndrome—a mindset of self-delusion—still grips the minds of so many leaders today; however, Tom and I are very hopeful that the messages of this book will be absorbed and acted upon.

TC: I believe that the greatest challenge facing current leaders’ future is global sustainability, exacerbated in the current period by major political reshaping of the post-Cold War world order, featuring the strategic shifts to the East in power bloc balances and the emergence of new regions challenging the economic and political hegemony of the superpowers of the last century. That is manifested in many ways and includes the growing real as well as the virtual mobility of people, capital, and knowledge, as well as the host regions’ demographics and that of migrants, which stimulates population flows internationally. These can not only influence policy and socio-economic development, wars, etc. but also change the culture and character of nations and organizations.

IGI Global: You are both affiliated with The Leadership Alliance. What kind of work do you do with this organization and how has that work influenced this book?

PS: The Leadership Alliance Inc. (TLA) is a consortium of internationally based Associates, each of whom is an authority in their own particular discipline. As President of TLA, I am responsible for furthering the aims of all the Associates and helping to build business for TLA; as a TLA Associate myself, I maintain a worldwide consulting practice assisting leading public and private sector organizations enhance performance and profitability through optimization of their leadership capabilities in traditional business environments as well as in currently emerging complex globally networked and Web 2.0 contexts. I have a particular interest in promoting the concept of triple bottom line sustainability, and I help my clients recognize that leadership today must be based on dynamic leadership principles and a ‘Renaissance’ view of leadership whereby leaders have a broad appreciation of all the elements contributing to the complexity of their organizational system, e.g. culture, strategy, innovation, knowledge management, demographics, etc., rather than based on a leader’s formally defined area of responsibility, e.g. HR or I/T or KM etc. Consistent with my role as President (TLA), my leadership consulting is an umbrella under which I may collaborate with various Associates as appropriate, or I may point to opportunities for Associates themselves to fulfill. This book is a direct outcome of my 25 years experience in the above roles.

TC: The Leadership Alliance Inc. is a medium for bringing together a diverse group of associates in a number of countries who share a common interest in leadership research, consulting, and development. We are able to learn from each other within a shared culture of personal and professional growth as well as being able to canvas the group for potential consulting or research partners. Peter and I got the book project together following TLA Inc. conversations and are able to build upon and enhance each others’ knowledge interests and experience during the last year or so we’ve been collaborating to research and write the book.

IGI Global: What advice would you give rising leaders in today’s society?

PS: In general, I would recommend striving to ‘be the best that one can be’ whilst cultivating the habits of life-long learning and making provision for surprises; in particular, I would recommend a careful reading of our book and consideration of its implications with special attention paid to clearly understanding and fulfilling one’s leadership role whilst attempting to ensure its ongoing relevance.

TC: Global business in the new world will involve more collaborative advantages as well as competitive advantages and require greater consultation with stakeholders in order to gain depth perception of stakeholders and markets. Many experts’ opinions in any area of life often coalesce around a set of trending points, but it is important to note that these are clustering interpretations of perceived patterns. However, as we suggest in our book, the most challenging problems facing leaders are multi-dimensional and interconnected, unfolding dynamically over time as these systems entangle with others. Such complexity cuts through and across multiple branches of expertise in learning, business, and politics, as well as diverse cultural lenses of stakeholders. Crucially, leaders must seek to balance the interests of all stakeholders by understanding the consequences of their actions on the system as a whole—including social costs such as poverty, the environment, and geopolitics.



Peter Smith has maintained a worldwide consulting practice assisting leading public and private sector organizations boost their performance by enhancing their leadership capabilities. The breadth of Peter’s previous practical hands-on management experience with Exxon has proven invaluable in ensuring that he continues to relate to the problems and pressures faced by organizations in today’s complex and ambiguous global environments and is fundamental to framing his research interests which include complexity leadership, global business drivers, organizational strategy, socio-digital technology, sustainability, innovation, knowledge management, organizational learning and related emerging paradigms. Peter is Managing Editor of the Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Consulting and Special Issues Editor The Learning Organization and Associate Editor (Practitioners) International Journal of Sociotechnology & Knowledge Management. Peter has published over sixty scholarly papers and is in demand internationally as a speaker, workshop leader and conference chair.

Tom Cockburn is a Senior Associate for the Leadership Alliance Inc. He obtained his first degree with honors from Leicester University, England and his MBA and Doctorate frm Cardiff University, Wales. He has several professional teaching and assessment qualifications, including e-moderator certification and executive coaching qualifications from the UK Universities of Wolverhampton, Liverpool and University of Ulster; the Waikato Institute of Technology (New Zealand); Hay Consulting (Australia); and EdExcel Foundation in London. Tom is Associate Fellow, New Zealand Institute of Management; a member of a number of editorial boards of international academic journals; and review member of the Cutting Edge Awards Committee, US Academy of HRD. Tom has 5 years Board experience on the Standing Conference of Welsh Management Education Centers, 8 years as Head of a UK Business school and a deputy Head of School in New Zealand. He has adjunct and visiting E-faculty roles on Henley Business School (UK) and Ulster University Business Schools’ MBA and MS programs.
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