White Space - Karl Johnson

Most senior leaders of today’s corporations have built the engine and chassis, filled the tank and turned the key, but in many cases, are still learning how to accelerate, shift gears, and navigate a tight corner in the matrix organizations they have built. In between the defined spaces of a typical corporation’s organization chart, there resides “white space.” Enabling leaders and their workforce to tap the potential that resides in the white space of their organization often represents the single-most compelling source of competitive advantage for today’s corporation. 

Matrix organizations, with their net-like structure of overlapping responsibilities and dotted line reporting relationships, represent our first managerial attempts at mapping and taming this terrain. The goals are noble – remaining closer to the customer, increasing organizational flexibility and responsiveness while reducing hierarchical bureaucracy, and realizing the economies of shared services across the organization. However, along with these noble goals come leadership challenges. Lessons learned and leadership strengths developed in siloed organizations with well defined, top-down reporting and accountability are less salient in matrix organizations. 

Most of my work with senior leaders and their top teams inevitably focuses on developing collective leadership responsibility across individuals, teams, and their organization in order to tap the potential that resides within the white space of their organization. Organizations are perfectly designed to deliver today’s results. This natural fact becomes a paradox for top leaders who are consistently striving to move their organizations into a preferred future with better and different results than they deliver today. Achieving even incremental change is difficult when leaders attempt to push a strategic agenda down through a typical matrix organization chart. Pushing the current system’s levers, only harder, generally yields incremental improvements that turn out to be unsustainable. Leading strategic change in a matrix organization requires a pull strategy that is predicated on leaders’ ability to influence, engage, and motivate in ways that create collective leadership responsibility for outcomes. Often, the first steps toward transformative change are, of necessity, organized and nurtured in the white space of the organization. 

The deeper reality is that underneath all the extrinsic harbingers of uniqueness in organizations and individuals lay the common traits of humanity. Corporations are, at their core, a means of organizing human activity to achieve desired results – they are human systems. Therefore, most of the accelerators and derailers of corporate success lie in the human domain. Intuition hints at most, but tends to miss critical aspects, of the rational and irrational drivers of human behavior. These drivers of human behavior are at the center of leaders’ success or failure harvesting the potential within themselves, their teams, and their organization’s white space. How we construct our personal identities, make decisions, socialize, and organize as groups all follow identifiable patterns. These patterns provide strong hints as to how to tap the potential that resides in one of the most complex human systems on the planet – the matrix global corporation. 

Our work at Full Circle Group distills lessons from behavioral and developmental psychology to illuminate the underlying thinking patterns that drive human behavior. We partner with senior leaders and top teams to identify and leverage the creative competencies needed to tap potential in the white space of their organization. At the same time, we coach and support top teams to manage reactive styles that resist change within a matrix organization. By doing so, we give leaders access to new choices and possibilities for improving personal, team, and collective leadership effectiveness. Care to explore the “white space” potential of your organization? Feel free to contact me directly at: karl.johnson@fcg-global.com.



Senior Vice President Leadership Consulting & Executive Coach

Full Circle Group & The Leadership Circle

Karl is passionate about supporting leaders to identify their intrinsic motivations and unique gifts as a path to realizing their greatest potential. As a consultant and coach at Full Circle Group, his work with executives focuses on leadership effectiveness, strategy alignment, and business transformation. Steeped in lessons learned from both the practice and research of leadership, Karl has developed unique and deep expertise in the areas of leadership development, business transformation, and organizational change.