personal leadership journey

Develop Your Personal Leadership Journey and Become an Effective Leader

Focus on your actions instead of your traits and personality to create a step-change in your leadership strength

Written by The Blue Ocean Team

The Blue Ocean Team shares case studies, stories and practical insights related to the blue ocean tools and principles developed by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

Adapted from Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Leadership, Harvard Business Review (May, 2014)

Every day you are on your personal leadership journey. The decisions you make as a leader affect your team and your organization. How would you evaluate your leadership? Are you an effective leader that drives high performance and brings your people along? Or can your leadership profile be markedly improved?

What if, instead of altering who you are, you could undertake a different set of tasks and create a step-change in your leadership strength?

In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the steps you can take today to design your personal leadership journey. We will introduce you to specific tools that will help you visualize your leadership reality and ask questions to redesign your leadership profile.

At the end of the article, you will also find a presentation – an introductory guide, “How to Become a Blue Ocean Leader“, containing tools and templates to help you take your leadership to the next level.

Your leadership journey reflection

Reflect for a moment on your personal leadership journey thus far. How effective is your leadership in your organization? Are your people engaged or disengaged? Is there a gulf between the potential and the realized talent and energy of your people at work? If so, how big do you imagine the gulf is – 10 percent, 20 percent, 40 percent of unrealized talent?

If your organization is like most, then chances are you have more disengaged employees than engaged ones.

How much better would your organization likely perform in terms of productivity, creativity, customer service, and employee happiness if you could close the gap?

Ask yourself, what is your role as a leader? If you believe your role is to drive high performance, then reflecting on your personal leadership journey and understanding how to turn this situation around is critical.

Starting with yourself is the first step to making a step change in leadership strength in your organization.

Your personal leadership journey starts today

How can you stand out as a leader? By turning disengaged employees into engaged ones through an approach to leadership that Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne call blue ocean leadership.

The insight for blue ocean leadership is that leadership, in essence, can be thought of as a service that people in an organization either ‘buy’ or ‘don’t buy’.

    Every leader has customers. Who are the customers of your leadership? Do you have bosses to whom you must deliver performance? How about your followers who require your guidance and support to achieve their performance?
    When people value your leadership practices, they in effect buy your leadership and are inspired to excel and act with commitment. But when employees don’t buy your leadership, they disengage, becoming noncustomers of your leadership.
    As in blue ocean strategy, which pursues high value at low cost to create and capture new customers and markets, isn’t the challenge of your leadership to create high impact at low cost to unlock your employees’ talent and energy? By low cost here we refer to time, as time is the most expensive and limited resource of leaders.

      Once you start thinking about your personal leadership in this way, you can see how the concepts and frameworks developed to create new demand in the field of strategy, could be adapted to help you not only develop your personal development journey but at the same time convert your disengaged employees into engaged ones.

      Focus on acts and activities

      If you are ambitious to progress on your personal leadership journey, chances are you have been part of leadership development programs in the past.

      Most leadership development programs and leadership strategies are designed to hone the cognitive and behavioral skills of leaders. The implicit assumption is that this will ultimately translate into high performance. Blue ocean leadership, in contrast, taps into the field of strategy by focusing on actions tied to market realities to rapidly bring about a step-change in leadership strength.

      As part of leadership development programs, you have probably been called on to develop traits such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy, all of which require deep self-reflection and introspection to assimilate into your character or behavior (or leadership style).

      Of course, having the right values, qualities, and behavior traits matters and you should work on them. However, as part of a human being’s inborn nature, these factors are hard to change within a short time frame.

      Blue ocean leadership, in contrast, is action-based, just as strategy is. It focuses on what acts and activities leaders need to do to provide a leap in motivation and business results driven by people, not on whom they need to be.

      It’s the difference between being asked to be motivating versus being asked to provide those you lead with real-time feedback and best practice lessons that internally motivate and guide those you lead to up their game while feeling valued.

      Imagine as a leader being asked to “be motivating”. Where do you begin? Now consider a different task: to provide those you lead with real-time feedback and best-practice lessons that motivate and guide people to perform more effectively while feeling valued.

      It is markedly easier to change your acts and activities than your values, qualities, or behaviors.

      Tools to map out a powerful personal leadership journey

      The AS-IS Leadership Canvas: How to see your current leadership reality

      Do you know how people in your organization currently experience your leadership? Are you engaging in acts and activities that hinder your team’s performance and motivation? Here is how to find out the reality of your personal leadership journey.

      Blue Ocean Leadership canvas

      Blue Ocean Leadership Canvas. © Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne. All rights reserved.

      The Leadership Canvas is an analytic visual that shows the acts and activities leaders currently undertake and invest their time and intelligence in as perceived by each leadership level’s customers.

      Ask yourself: what acts and activities are you spending most of your time on?

      The objective here is to identify the key acts and activities – both good and bad – that actually absorb your time so the As-Is Leadership Canvas can be drawn.

      Start by listing your key leadership acts and activities along the horizontal axis and plotting your investment of time and effort in each activity across the vertical axis. The big picture will give you keen insight into your current leadership reality and unlock your creativity to develop a new effective leadership profile for the future.

      What did you find? Is your time mostly clogged with bureaucratic tasks and low-value acts and activities? Are you spending enough time on the acts and activities that actually add value to your organization?

      Here is an example of an As-Is Leadership Canvas of one company’s senior management.

      Blue Ocean Leadership canvas of senior managers

      © Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne. All rights reserved.

      The Blue Ocean Leadership Grid: How to develop your new leadership profile

      The Blue Ocean Leadership Grid is an analytic tool that complements the Leadership Canvas and helps you formulate your blue ocean leadership profile that can unlock the ocean of unrealized talent and energy in your organization.

      blue ocean leadership grid

      The Blue Ocean Leadership Grid © Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne. All rights reserved.

      The tool drives you to ask four questions that challenge your current leadership reality:

      Eliminate: Which acts and activities you invest your time and intelligence in that should be eliminated?

      Reduce: Which acts and activities you invest your time and intelligence in that should be reduced well below their current level?

      Raise: Which acts and activities you invest your time and intelligence in that should be raised well above their current level?

      Create: Which acts and activities should you invest your time and intelligence in that you currently don’t undertake?

      The as-is leadership profiles help you wake up to reality and see the need for change.

      The Blue Ocean Leadership Grid drives you to find out what leadership activities should be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created to create a step-change in your leadership strength and achieve high impact with a lower investment of time.

      Based on the acts and activities from your completed Blue Ocean Leadership Grid, draw your To-Be Leadership Canvas.

      Blue Ocean Leadership Canvas. © Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne. All rights reserved.

      The To-Be Leadership Canvas zooms in on key acts and activities that you need to cut back on to free up time and space and those you should focus on to dramatically uplift your leadership performance. By focusing on acts and activities, the tasks for change are atomized.

      Compared with traditional leadership programs that often focus on attitudes and behaviors that can take years of dedicated effort to cultivate, this approach offers you a relatively straightforward way to make high-impact changes happen fast and at low cost. As Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s research has shown, it is easier to change what you do, than who you are.

      An example of a To-Be Leadership Canvas of one company’s senior management.

      © Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne. All rights reserved.

      Your journey of leadership continues

      Blue ocean leadership is about providing a structured process for you to discover for yourself how you need to change in action terms as a leader to create a win all around. The Leadership Canvas allows the standards for success to be measurable. It provides a simple one-page picture that you can quickly grasp, which shows your current or As-Is Leadership Profile and what acts and activities you need to eliminate, reduce, raise and create to deliver a leap in your leadership effectiveness for high performance.

      While the practice of leadership will never be an exact science, the aim of blue ocean leadership is to help move it from soft amorphous values and traits to the acts and activities that managers can execute tomorrow and not work on for years before seeing results.

      Just imagine how much higher performing your organization would be if you unlocked this blue ocean of new leadership space through action-based, market connected, distributed deep, blue ocean leadership?

      Personal leadership journey presentation

      This introductory guide on How to Become a Blue Ocean Leader contains key points of blue ocean leadership along with the tools and templates to help you start on your journey to design your new leadership profile.

      Download this presentation and work through the exercises to design your personal leadership journey using powerful tools of blue ocean leadership.

      A must-have for managers and senior leaders! Download it below. The introductory guide comes with a 5-email mini series on blue ocean leadership where we discuss the concepts further. 

      How to Become a Blue Ocean Leader

      Get the FREE introductory guide

      Focus on your actions instead of your traits and personality to create a step-change in your leadership strength


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