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Navigating the data-driven landscape: the role of ambidextrous leadership

Published 16 October 2023 in Leadership • 6 min read

Leveraging real-world data can be transformative, and leaders need to both transform their core activities and pursue new opportunities.

The world of data-driven business is constantly evolving. Mohan Subramaniam, Professor of Strategy and Digital Transformation at IMD, illuminates the path from traditional, historical data to the dynamic realm of interactive data.

We delve into the key takeaways from his address on India’s digital transformation journey during his keynote at the India Management Transformation Summit last month in Mumbai, India.

Data’s evolution: From historic to interactive

One of the paramount shifts is the move from episodic data (historical) to interactive data (real-time). Subramaniam started by drawing a clear distinction between the two. Historic data, often used to discern market trends and historical actions, has its place, but it falls short in today’s fast-paced business environment. Interactive data, on the other hand, offers real-time insights gleaned from continuous interactions with products and services.

The potential of interactive data for businesses lies in its ability to provide immediate insights into customer behavior and preferences. In doing so, it enables businesses to adapt swiftly to changing dynamics and make informed decisions.

Delving into the customer connection

Understanding how individual customers are currently interacting with products and services has become very important in making business decisions. Rather than relying on aggregate data or generalized focus groups, Subramaniam advocates for a one-on-one understanding of each customer’s real-time reactions. This personalized approach enables businesses to cater to individual needs and preferences, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Emphasizing the creativity and innovation that goes into this thinking, he added, “If you do that, it opens up new avenues for value creation.”

Companies can generate revenue not only from product sales but also from data itself. Interactive data in particular becomes a valuable asset that can be monetized. This paradigm shift from product-centric to data-centric thinking opens up new avenues for value creation and business growth.

Expanding beyond conventional boundaries

Businesses can transcend traditional value chains by integrating user data with complementary services and ecosystems, Subramaniam said. This expanded approach not only fosters innovation but also amplifies the value proposition for customers. It allows companies to offer more holistic and integrated solutions, enriching the customer experience.

In the transition from product-based business models to data-driven ones, companies will inevitably encounter challenges. One such challenge is the mindset shift required to adapt to the impact of modern technology on data generation and sharing.

“Only 12% of CXOs are capable of effectively leading dual transformations.”
- Ric Roi, Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organization

Companies need to recognize that competitors are not limited to those offering similar products. “If you think about the world of data, your competitors are those who have access to similar data – and they may not be the same.” Acknowledging this broader competitive landscape is crucial for staying ahead in the data-driven era.

Subramaniam emphasized the need for businesses to navigate the risk-reward trade-offs associated with data-driven revenue models. The trade-off between customer privacy and perceived value in particular was a central theme, illustrated by examples where customers were willing to trade privacy for convenience or benefits.

Understanding this balance is key to building trust while delivering valuable services, and businesses must tailor their approaches to suit the preferences and comfort levels of different customer demographics.

In the business-to-business (B2B) context, the privacy concerns may be less significant when the benefits of data-driven models are clear. This distinction highlights the varying dynamics between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions in the realm of data.

Subramaniam concluded his address by offering a roadmap for businesses entering the interactive data era. He underlined the importance of maintaining visibility into customer interactions, advocating for ecosystem integration to create powerful synergies, and identifying data complements that can lead to innovative revenue streams and partnerships.

Ambidextrous leadership essentials

The relevance of ambidextrous leadership in dual transformations

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, adaptability and versatility have become paramount for business leaders. Ric Roi, Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organization at IMD and an expert in ambidextrous leadership, shed light on the challenges and opportunities in leading dual transformations within organizations.

Roi’s insights focused on the need for ambidextrous leaders in organizations as they undergo dual transformations – that is, the need to transform their core business while at the same time pursuing new revenue streams and business models to remain relevant. These leaders can seamlessly switch between different leadership styles and approaches based on the context and demands of the situation. In a world where change is constant, ambidextrous leadership provides the adaptability and agility needed to drive success.

Ambidextrous leaders possess a unique blend of skills that allow them to both lead from the front and act as coaches. They can provide clear direction and guidance to their teams when necessary, taking charge and setting the course.

leadership OS
Ambidextrous leaders not only excel in leading others but also in leading themselves.

However, they also understand the value of stepping back and allowing their teams to make decisions and learn from their experiences. This duality empowers individuals and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

Driving flawless execution and embracing experimentation

Balancing flawless execution with a willingness to experiment is another hallmark of ambidextrous leadership. These leaders are adept at replicating best-in-class routines and processes to achieve consistent results. Simultaneously, they are open to breaking away from established routines to explore new possibilities and innovations. This adaptive approach ensures growth and adaptability in a rapidly changing business landscape.

Working with formal procedures and informal networks

Effective stakeholder management is crucial for successful leadership, so ambidextrous leaders understand the importance of following formal procedures and protocols when dealing with stakeholders. They are well-versed in the regulations governing their interactions. However, they go beyond the formalities and possess the ability to navigate informal networks and relationships to achieve mutual goals. This dexterity in stakeholder engagement enhances their effectiveness in various situations.

Leading self with courage and equilibrium

Ambidextrous leaders not only excel in leading others but also in leading themselves. They dare to make bold and visionary decisions when needed and are unafraid to take calculated risks to forge new paths. However, they also can find equilibrium and return to their center when required. This balance ensures that they maintain composure and resilience even in the face of adversity.

Ambidextrous leaders have mastered the art of equilibrium, Roi said, enabling them to lead from the front, coach, when necessary, execute with precision, experiment fearlessly, manage stakeholders effectively, and lead themselves with courage and composure. As organizations navigate dual transformations, these leaders are invaluable assets, guiding them through the complex terrain of change and innovation.


Mohan Subramaniam

Mohan Subramaniam

Professor of Strategy and Digital Transformation at IMD.

Mohan Subramaniam focuses on the digital transformation of incumbent industrial firms and new sources of competitive advantage in the digital age. He sets out his thinking on the topic in his new bookThe Future of Competitive Strategy: Unleashing the Power of Data and Digital Ecosystems.

Ric Roi

Ric Roi

Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organization at IMD

Ric Roi is a senior business psychologist and advises boards and CEOs on matters related to board renewal, CEO succession, top team effectiveness and leadership transitions.


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