Blue Ocean Leadership

How Do Your Team Members Experience Your Leadership?

Blue Ocean Leadership - How Do Your Team Members Experience Your Leadership?

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Are you ready to lead your team into fresh blue oceans of possibility?

Imagine that you lead a team of people who perform consistently, and produce steady results. Although their output is regular and reliable, they're no longer trying out new approaches or reaching new goals.

You'd like your team to keep developing, to advance, and to win further success for the organization. You want to provide it with the motivation and support it needs to do this, but your time and budget are limited. Is there a way that you can encourage your team to improve its performance without spending money or wasting time?

This is where Blue Ocean Leadership could help. A well known British retail group applied it to re-engage its team members and to lead them to do what they needed to succeed. Its staff turnover dropped from about 40 percent to 11 percent, and its recruitment costs reduced by 50 percent.

In this article, we'll look at Blue Ocean Leadership – an approach you can use to motivate your team and raise its performance, without spending much money or wasting valuable time.

What Is Blue Ocean Leadership?

Blue Ocean Leadership was created by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and is based on their theory of Blue Ocean Strategy. It's about making changes to the way your team members work by engaging with them and motivating them to succeed.

Kim and Mauborgne describe leadership as a service that team members either "buy" or "don't buy," which can affect how invested they are in their work. Blue Ocean Leadership is about encouraging your team to buy into your leadership so that it is engaged, committed and motivated to perform.


Kim and Mauborgne developed Blue Ocean Strategy in 2005. It describes the way that an organization escapes a "red ocean" of similar businesses and moves into new space to seek fresh customers. Cirque du Soleil, a well-known Canadian entertainment company, is an example of this. It reinvigorated the circus in 1984 by replacing traditional clowns and performing animals with performance art.

Putting Blue Ocean Leadership Into Practice

Blue Ocean Leadership uses a four-step approach.

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Step One: Focus on Acts and Activities

According to Blue Ocean Leadership, a person's actions are easier to change than his or her values. This step is about looking at how effectively your team member completes his tasks. It's about reviewing his actions, and providing him with guidance and feedback to boost his motivation and increase his productivity.

Your team member can become discouraged if she's told that he must change himself. Offering constructive feedback on her actions instead of focusing on her flaws can make her feel valued, and can motivate her to succeed.


Best practice sessions are useful tools for improving your people's performance. Offering feedback when it's needed, instead of saving your comments for performance reviews, can help your staff member to make improvements to the way she works, sooner.

Lots of leadership strategies center on changing the manager's behavior and encouraging people to develop skills like empathy and self-awareness. Blue Ocean Leadership addresses a team member's actions directly and allows him to make positive changes to the way he carries out his tasks.

Step Two: Connect Leadership to Market Realities by Engaging People

This step's about setting goals for your team member that are realistic and achievable. She's more likely to reach them if she feels engaged with them.

For example, if you tell her that she must respond to customer requests for refunds quickly, but you do nothing about the inefficient process your organization uses for making refunds, she's going to be frustrated and uninspired.

Blue Ocean Leadership encourages you to discuss with her the obstacles that prevent her from doing her job effectively. Ask her how your actions can affect her productivity and whether there is anything you can do to help. Make sure she has everything she needs to succeed.

When a team member can help to shape the activities that will affect her performance, she feels like her opinion counts and she's likely to be much more motivated to perform at her best.

Step Three: Distribute Leadership Across Different Management Levels

Blue Ocean Leadership focuses on distributed leadership. This is where leaders at every level of an organization are empowered to deliver high performance, not just those at the very top. This responsibility is pushed down through each layer of management, reaching every team member, and resulting in peak performance across the organization.

This step is about making sure that every leader in your organization is committed to making positive change. The key point is that every leader, regardless of his level within the organization, needs to take the action that's needed for his team to succeed.

Blue Ocean Leadership recognizes that managers at different levels need to have different leadership skills depending on the tasks they're required to do, the degree of power they hold, and the environment they're working in.

Kim and Mauborgne recommend creating leadership profiles for each level of management to lift individual and organization performance. To encourage company-wide support, the profiles are developed by a cross-section of managers and non-management team members, who are tasked with evaluating activities in their team to identify:

  • Low-impact activities – Tasks that take up a lot of time but that gain little result.
  • High-impact activities – Tasks that get results but that don't get a lot of backing from leadership.

Team members are also invited to suggest additional high-impact activities that they believe could benefit the team.

The group uses its findings to draft an ideal leadership profile, which highlights the type of leaders best suited to each level of management. This is presented to senior managers and board members, who work to match leaders to these profiles in the future, throughout the organization.

Take a look at Building Tomorrow's Leaders and The Leadership Pipeline Model for more practical tips on identifying and developing leaders in your organization.

Step Four: Pursue High-Impact Leadership Acts and Activities at Low Cost

Kim and Mauborgne suggest that leadership practices are often seen as an addition to people's regular workload. Blue Ocean Leadership recognizes this and provides a way to trim down your To-Do List, allowing you to focus on the tasks that will lead your team members to success.

This step is about motivating your team member by making sure that the tasks she works on are engaging, relevant and worthwhile – for her as an individual and for the organization. Kim and Mauborgne call these "high-impact" tasks.

Kim and Mauborgne describe how some tasks and activities can be resented by your team, be time-consuming for you, and be unappreciated by the people above you. These include things like using complicated file-naming conventions or lengthy procedures for archiving data. Of course, there are always jobs that, although they are boring, must be done. This step is about cutting out the activities that have the lowest impact and get the least results, leaving more time for you to focus on high-impact activities that motivate your people and allow them to get the right results.

From "The Four Pillars of Blue Ocean Leadership" by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. 2014. Reproduced with permission. See Blue Ocean Strategy for more information.

Key Points

Based on Blue Ocean Strategy, Blue Ocean Leadership encourages positive change and improved performance by focusing on motivating people and leading them to do what they need to succeed.

The four steps focus on reviewing how effectively your team member completes his tasks, setting him realistic goals, making sure that every leader in the organization is committed to making positive change, and ensuring that the tasks people work on are engaging and worthwhile.

By following these steps, your team members are motivated to deliver the performance that your organization needs to make the leap into fresh blue oceans of possibility.