WashingtonExec recently interviewed Melvin Greer, a senior fellow and chief strategist at Lockheed Martin. Greer has more than 29 years’ experience in systems and software engineering and is a recognized expert in Service Oriented Architecture, Cloud Computing and Predictive Analytics. His research fields include Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology and Gamification. Greer has authored a new book centered on leadership and its relationship to business.
He leads The Greer Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. The institute is organized for educational research and scientific application of Greer’s theories on leadership and innovation and addresses society’s related problems. Below, Greer discusses his work, thought process and family, including his mother, who passed on many valuable lessons, including leadership lessons, to Greer.
WashingtonExec: You have completed a new book, “21st Century Leadership: Harnessing Innovation, Accelerating Business Success.” Could you tell us a little about your book, including the 21st Century Leadership and Innovation Model?
Melvin Greer: I’m very excited about this book and I appreciate the interest in the book and its message. As with many good outcomes it starts with a hurdle or obstacle. In my case this book started with my mother’s early 2010 diagnosis of terminal cancer. While she succumbed to the disease last year, her battle in the face of it caused me to reflect on her life and leadership and its impact on me. My mother was a teacher or administrator in every school I attended until college and she passed on many leadership lessons. When I thought about it, I realized I had benefited and continue to benefit from many mentors, coaches and advisors in developing my leadership capabilities. Once I started doing research for the book in earnest I determined that we are facing a crisis in leadership. Noteworthy is the 2013 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor, which tracked the perceptions of 6,000 people in 12 countries on five continents. It found that just 24 percent believe leaders overall are providing effective leadership. Sixty percent have boycotted or bought fewer products from a company due to poor leadership behavior.
I’ve determined since authoring this book that my life’s work would include the identification and support of new leaders and the nurturing of environments where innovation thrives. I have my mother to thank, and that’s why while this is my fourth book, it’s the first dedicated to my mom.
WashingtonExec: In your book you talk about a required new style of leadership that drives innovation in the 21st century. Why is it important to re-examine leadership now and what contributes to your personal leadership style?
Melvin Greer: With uncertainty now the new normal, and leaders of all kinds remaining under intense, unbroken scrutiny we are at a critical time in the examination of modern today’s leaders and leadership. It is more important than ever for leaders to take a fresh look at their contribution to innovation.
I’ve been very fortunate to learn from smart and effective leaders. Early in my career I focused on international expatriate assignments, with the goal of learning and developing multiple engineering, system development and problem solving techniques. I spent four years as an executive in Europe —two years in Germany and a year in Paris and London each. I was also CIO of Latin America for four years in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These global assignments helped me value and develop a leadership style, which encourages diversity in all its forms, a rigor and discipline focused on results and a stomach for risk-taking and rapid failure.
…My mother was a teacher or administrator in every school I attended until college and she passed on many leadership lessons. When I thought about it, I realized I had benefited and continue to benefit from many mentors, coaches and advisors in developing my leadership capabilities…”
WashingtonExec: What is ambidextrous leadership and how do leaders develop it?
Melvin Greer: We talked about the new normal of uncertainty and how leaders of all kinds are under intense, unbroken scrutiny. This has created an innovation gap where today’s leaders have allowed leadership behavior that fosters innovation to atrophy in favor of operational performance. Ambidexterity is the ability to engage in innovation (exploration) and operation (exploitation) activities equally well. But these are two very different but complementary leadership behaviors.
What makes ambidextrous leadership hard is that innovation is a complex and non-linear activity. There is a dynamic life cycle and pace of innovation, combined with situational variability. This requires leaders to develop temporal flexibility, the ability to know when to do what for maximum business impact.
WashingtonExec: What disruptive innovations seem to be affecting today’s leaders?
Melvin Greer: In many ways today’s leaders in every domain space, public and private sector are being judged on their ability to harness disruptive innovations. I’ve identified four disruptive innovations that are impacting leaders and leadership:
o Cloud Computing
o Enterprise Mobility
o Big Data and Predictive Analytics
o Social Business
Traditionally IT knowledge has been confined to the IT department, but not anymore. In the same way any leader should be able to read a P&L or interpret and operate a balance sheet, they should be able to understand how technology will impact the business strategy of their organization.
WashingtonExec: What are STEM and STEAM and how do they relate to leadership?
Melvin Greer: Innovative leaders understand that systematic innovation requires a tight linkage to the development of a strong workforce and perhaps more importantly, the development of future leaders, students via a robust science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and adding arts (STEAM) pipeline. The book drills down to illuminate what makes leaders so good at innovation and talent, and describes how to move an innovation strategy from “chasing shiny objects” to a powerful, sustainable cultural change and create a magnet for great talent. A leader’s understanding of the need to invest in STEM and STEAM is critical in harnessing disruptive innovation.
The goal is to mature new leaders and inspire future innovators. This is how we, as leaders, turn this disruption from a challenge into an opportunity for business growth via innovation.
I have a great family. My wife and two boys expect that we have dinner together every night as well as lots of talk time, both of which develop my active listening skills. My wife is a culinary instructor so we spend our spare time learning about healthy food, how to find it, how to prepare it and how to enjoy it.”
WashingtonExec: What are your current research focus areas?
Melvin Greer: I really enjoy research and the hard sciences. I’m working with venture capital and private equity firms in evaluating early-stage companies that can accelerate innovation. I’m giving particular attention to underrepresented communities in science especially African Americans, Hispanics, girls and Native Americans. I’m working with multiple stakeholders to develop research initiatives in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, advanced sensors and gamification.
WashingtonExec: Business aside, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Melvin Greer: I have a great family. My wife and two boys expect that we have dinner together every night as well as lots of talk time, both of which develop my active listening skills. My wife is a culinary instructor so we spend our spare time learning about healthy food, how to find it, how to prepare it and how to enjoy it. I try to spend an hour a day writing an article, book, blog post or tech review. I just finished my entrepreneurial finance and private equity course at MIT Sloan. I’m very excited about my next literary project. I’m storyboarding a new children’s book called “Jeffrey and the Flea.” It’s about Jeffrey, a smart kid who loves science. It details the challenges he faces and describes how his conscience (the flea) helps guide him through important life choices.
* The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the official view of any component or institution with which he is affiliated.