Example Of Characteristics And Traits Of An Ambidextrous Leader Literature Review

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Leadership, Organization, Leader, Management, Teamwork, Environment, Team, Style

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/12/16


A lot of literature has been written on the characteristics of an ambidextrous leader, because this is an emerging branch of research conducted on the concept of organizational ambidexterity. This section of the paper is being written with the purpose to define how effective leadership can influence ambidexterity and the way group ambidexterity can be headed.
The emergence of the respective branch can be estimated from the review that there were very less research papers on this topic in 2004; while more than 80 research papers were found by 2009 (Raisch & Birkinshaw 375-409). In recent years, a lot of literature has been presented defining the ways in which the characteristics of a leader may be lead by an ambidextrous environment in the best possible way.

Literature Review, Discussion and Findings

If the review of earlier researches and studies is accounted then it is found that in the year 1976, Dr. Robert Duncan was the first person who originated the term and concept of organizational ambidexterity. He formulated the concept in his article “The ambidextrous organization: Designing dual structures for innovation”.
The next noticeable study was conducted after the duration of fifteen years by Dr. Lames March. He published the formative article “Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning” which involves the phenomena of generating an interest in the abstraction of organizational ambidexterity (Lubatkin et al. 646-672). The earlier research and study on the following concept, the events of operational improvements and innovation were taken as two different and separate activities.
This required different types of leadership, structures and team roles to make better results in respective fields. In the era of 90s, the belief was concentrated on the operational groups that are highly functional and perform the activities of implementation and refinement. But it was believed that these groups are not suitable for performing creative activities like innovation, experimentation, and discovery. That means the preparation to utilize the existing competencies of any group can only be achieved in lieu of being inefficient with respect to creative thinking and experimentation.
Further, thorough and deep research has been performed on the concept of ambidexterity to check its employability outside the aura of an organization. Therefore, to examine and explore the background and repercussions of the concept of ambidexterity, Lubatkin utilized the data of multisource survey that involved the CEO’s and team members from top management of 139 small to medium sized firms (Lubatkin et al. 646-672).
This research paid attention on the role of top management that can lay impact on the finalized performance at the firm level. From the different aspects of the conducted study, it was concluded that the performance at the firm level is affected in positive way by the binary tracking of the approach of exploration and exploitation. Instantly, for achieving ambidexterity in the organization it is necessary to make integration on behavioral basis by the top management of the organization.
According to Birkenshaw and Gibson, the two aspects of adaptability and alignment are necessary to ensure the long term survival and success of the organization, which is generally termed as ambidexterity (Birkenshaw & Gibson 47-55). The aspect of adaptability refers to grab the new opportunities and make suitable market adjustments; and alignment refers to create exact perception of value creation and proper coordination of movements to make deliveries. On primary background, Brikenshaw and Gibson give two different kinds of ambidexterity that can be followed: Structural Ambidexterity and Contextual Ambidexterity.
Structural Ambidexterity: This form of ambidexterity is accomplished by the direction and conclusions made by the top management that where the group should adjust their focus, whether alignment activities or adaptability activities. The top management is responsible for defining the complete format to create adjustments. In this case, the group-members are generally specialists of their fields as well as their respective roles are made clearer. In other words, structural ambidexterity is the way of creating discrete frames for performing different activities (Duncan 31-47). Also a separate structure involving separate teams is formed to accomplish the activities that are alignment-focused and adaptability-focused.
Contextual Ambidexterity: This form of ambidexterity is achieved by forming time format for accomplishing the alignment and adaptability activities that mean, there are no separate teams for performing different activities, but the same time frame is divided accordingly. This form of ambidexterity is adapted by the employees of frontline. The role of top management is limited to make an environment so that employees can perform accordingly for attaining ambidexterity. If the contextual ambidexterity is defined at organizational level, it is described as the collective movement of all the team members towards achievement of alignment and adaptability (O’Reilly & Tushman 74-81). At individual level the concept of contextual ambidexterity explains the individual behavior of the team members.

According to Birkenshaw and Gibson, there are four kinds of behavior that can be explained at individual level:

Ambidextrous individuals take the initial steps and pay attention towards the opportunities beyond their defined responsibilities;
They are comparatively more cooperative and make collective efforts;
These individuals always initiate to construct internal linkages;
They are considered to be multi-taskers and can be allotted more than one responsibility which they perform with full dedication.
The important characteristics that leaders should possess in an ambidextrous environment have been discussed below:
An effective leader should possess the quality of integrity and originality towards the ambidextrous environment of the organization, because it helps in maintaining the dignity of the responsibilities that they are allotted with (Raisch et al. 685-695).
An ambidextrous leader should always motivate the team members in every situation to generate energy even in difficult conditions. The motivation can be imparted in the form of rewards, certificates, and cash prizes, etc.
The leader should be aware of the team members and their problems to build a sense of team coordination and mutual care. This helps in constructing the ambidextrous environment and performs the difficult activities very easily by employing the techniques of exploration and exploitation (Oke, Munshi, & Walumbwa 64-72).
A leader should be flexible towards the rule amendments to make ambidextrous environment because being rigid sometimes prevent the actual performance of the employees.
An ambidextrous leader should also make suitable celebration on the success of any project to motivate the team members and enthusiastically move towards another project. This develops the feeling of mutual cooperation and homework environment even in difficult situations.
There have been a large number of literatures that discusses on the role of leaders to explore and recognize different styles of leadership in all types of opposing dimensions, such as leaders can be considered as formal versus informal, creative versus routine, resilient versus flexible, leadership versus management, etc.
Some of the summative dimensions are discussed here to explain the challenges faced in creating ambidextrous environment: Differentiation and integration, Individual or organizational level, static versus dynamic perspective, internal versus external perspective, effectiveness versus efficiency, revolutionary versus evolutionary, organic versus mechanistic, and transactional versus transformational. The literature about transformational versus transactional leaders have diverted the maximum attention that puts the leaders in opposing dimensions (Denison Hooijberg, & Quinn 524-540).
In universal context, transactional leadership is understood with a motivational style that involves reward and punishment which is considered to be the extrinsic motivation of followers (Mom, van den Bosch, & Volberda 812-828). In earlier context, this style of leadership was the most popular form of effective leadership because it was believed that team members can only be controlled and led to work with the help of reward or punishment (Bass et al. 207-218).
But through a thorough research it was concluded that the students, employees, project leaders were found more connected with the effective leaders rather than those who compensate correctly. In contrary to the transactional style of leadership, the transformational style deals on personalized basis.
The transformational style of leadership tends to build healthy relations with the team members that are based on the foundation of emotional and inspirational exchanges. This style of leadership is comparatively more effective in maximizing the potential of the team members.
Therefore, it can be said that transformational style of leadership works with a common purpose on the ground of intrinsic motivation (Gupta, Smith, & Shalley 693-706). The effect of transformational style of leadership on organizational ambidexterity can be configured from the outcome that to make high levels of exploitative and exploratory innovations, the objectives and rewards of senior team should be aligned with the ability of the firm or organization.
According to Raisch et al. (2009) there are three different principals that help in creating an effective ambidextrous environment, which defines the role of ambidextrous leaders (Floyd & Lane 154-177). This theory explains that to develop an ambidextrous environment in the organization, leaders can create an over aching image that generate a grip over the situations at the top and also includes the irregularity in work.
Furthermore, there has been a lot of research and study that defines few more characteristics of leader that make him ambidextrous and also helps in setting these characteristics in arranging them according to the priority of benefits. In the situation when an ambidextrous leader has to take decisions, many contradictions are faced which make the situation more critical with respect to the achievement of favorable outcomes.
Hence, a leader should possess the ability to overcome with a wide range of conflicting opportunities, requirements and goals (O’Reilly & Tushman 74-81). The most important characteristics of an ambidextrous leader are the ability of fulfilling multiple responsibilities and goals. The leader is expected to have specialization in his respective fields so as to help the team members in performing the task and act as a guide if any of the group member face difficulty in achieving any of the task.
An important feature of ambidextrous leadership is adaptability, that is, the leader should be flexible to adapt new technologies and updated skills that can gear up the performance efficiency. The leader should be able to update him according to the requirement of the task to be completed and should be expert enough to train the employees to match their skills with the present marketing environment to construct an ambidextrous environment in the organization. These characteristics makes a leader fit to enter into an ambidextrous environment of an organization.
The level of ambidexterity in an organization can be measured by the mechanism of formal structural coordination. The level of ambidexterity in an organization highly depends on the coordination level of activities that are being performed. Another factor that decides the level of ambidexterity is the decision making authority and formulization of the leader’s task (Gibson & Birkinshaw 209-226).
Besides this, investigations are also made about the mechanism of personal coordination that has impact on the managerial ambidexterity. The associative characteristics of a leader define the level and quality of the connections that a manager should have with the members of other organizations. The sequential format of shifting the structures in a certain time period also helps in achieving ambidexterity in an organization.
But, according to Duncan (1976, p. 50), sequential ambidexterity proves to be ineffective in some cases that led the organization to the requirement of setting the focus on the contextual ambidexterity. In difficult situation, the individual performing the responsibility of leadership can follow a set of instructions and processes to move out of the respective situations.


We have often noticed that, leaders are not born but they are created. They possess specific management qualities through which they are able to lead from the front. Be it any case, or the scenario, this claim is justified from the fact that, there is only one CEO of the organization and there is only one President or Prime Minister of the nation. They possess not only ambidextrous qualities that shape them into a leader, but they also have a specific skill-set that adds charm to their leadership. Their communication skills, their way of interacting and their overall personality itself make them an efficient leader (Denison, Hooijberg, & Quinn 524- 540).
This report has provided an in-depth literature review, discussion and some of the important findings associated with characteristics and traits of an ambidextrous leader. Recently, since last decade more research is carried out in this direction, since every organization today wants the best leader for their working environment. They want people who can handle tasks or responsibilities of ten people; and, this is the reason that, even normal people with good and effective leadership skills are turning out to be great leaders in the future for such challenging situations. The organizations however, will need to train them so that they can adjust in the new working environment and thereby, later on deliver as per the requirements and objectives of the organization.


Bass, B.M., B.J., Avolio, D.I., Jung, & Y., Berson. “Predicting Unit Performance by Assessing Transformational and Transactional Leadership.” Journal of Applied Psychology 88.2 (2003): 207-218.
Birkinshaw, J., & C., Gibson. “Building ambidexterity into an organization.” MIT Sloan Management Review 45.4 (2004): 47-55.
Denison, R.D., R., Hooijberg, & R.E., Quinn. “Paradox and Performance: Toward a Theory of Behavioral Complexity in Managerial Leadership.” Organization Science 6.5 (1995): 524- 540.
Duncan, R. The ambidextrous organization: Designing dual structures for innovation. New York: North Holland, 1976. Print.
Floyd, S.W., & P.J., Lane. “Strategizing throughout the organization: Managing role conflict in strategic renewal.” Academic Management Review 25 (2000): 154-177.
Gibson, C.B., & J., Birkinshaw. “The antecedents, consequences and mediating role of organizational ambidexterity.” Academy of Management Journal 47 (2004): 209-226.
Gupta, A.K., K.G., Smith, & C.E., Shalley. “The interplay between exploration and exploitation.” Academy of Management Journal 4 (2006): 693-706.
Lubatkin, M.H., Z., Simsek, Y., Ling, & J.F., Veiga. “Ambidexterity and performance in small-to medium-sized firms: The pivotal role of top management team behavioral integration.” Journal of Management 32.5 (2006): 646-672.
Mom, T.J.M, F.A., van den Bosch, & H.W., Volberda. “Understanding variation in managers' ambidexterity: Investigating direct and interaction effects of formal structural and personal coordination mechanisms.” Organization Science 20.4 (2009): 812-828.
Oke, A., N., Munshi, & F.O., Walumbwa. “The Influence of Leadership on Innovation Processes and Activities.” Organizational Dynamics 38.1 (2009): 64-72.
O’Reilly, C. A., & M. L. Tushman. “The ambidextrous organization.” Harvard Business Review 8 (2004): 74-81.
Raisch, S., & J., Birkinshaw. “Organizational ambidexterity: Antecedents, outcomes, and moderators.” Journal of Management 34.3 (2008): 375-409.
Raisch, S., J., Birkinshaw, G., Probst, & M.L., Tushman. “Organizational ambidexterity: Balancing exploitation and exploration for sustained performance.” Organization Science 20.4 (2009): 685-695.

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