Blue Ocean Leadership

Blue Ocean Leadership

Imagine this – you lead a group of colleagues who perform consistently and produce steady results. However, while their output is regular and reliable, they’re no longer trying new things or reaching new goals. Sounds like a pretty decent situation as a leader, yet it’s not ideal. Right? Naturally, you want your team to continue developing, advancing, and winning further success for the organization. You want to provide your team with the motivation and support it needs to do so, 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? Yes – this is where Blue Ocean Leadership comes into play as an effective form of leadership.

An established British retail group applied the Blue Ocean approach to leadership in order to re-engage its team and to lead them to do what was necessary to succeed. Upon adopting Blue Ocean Leadership, their turnover rate dropped by nearly 30% and their recruitment costs plummeted by nearly 50%. In this article, we’ll explore Blue Ocean Leadership as an approach you can employ to motivate your team and increase its performance without spending or allocating additional resources.

What is Blue Ocean Leadership?

Blue Ocean Leadership, which was created by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, is based on the larger concept of Blue Ocean Strategy. Blue Ocean Leadership is about making changes to the way in which your team works by engaging with them and motivating them to achieve greater success.

Kim and Mauborgne describe leadership as a service that teams either “buy” or “don’t buy.” The team’s decision to buy into or not buy into leadership can impact how invested they are in their work. Blue Ocean Leadership is about encouraging your team to buy into your style of leadership so that they are engaged, committed, and highly motivated to perform.

Kim and Mauborgne previously developed Blue Ocean Strategy in 2005. It describes how an organization can escape a “red ocean” of similiar businesses and move into a new space to seek out new customers.

Blue Ocean Leadership Difference

How to Apply Blue Ocean Leadership

Blue Ocean Leadership involves a four-step approach.

Step 1: Focus on Acts and Activities

An individual’s actions are easier to change than their values. This step is about looking at how effectively your team completes their tasks. It’s about reviewing their actions and providing guidance and feedback to boost their motivation and increase their productivity.

Your team can become discouraged if they’re told that they must change who they are personally. Offering constructive feedback on their actions instead of focusing on their flaws can make them feel valued and can help motivate them to succeed.

Lots of leadership strategies focus 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. Furthermore, it allows them to make positive changes to the way in which they carry out their tasks.

Step 2: Connect Leadership to Market Realities by Engaging People

The second step is all about setting realistic and achievable goals for your team. Your team is more likely to reach them if they feel engaged with them.

For instance, if you tell your team that they must respond to customer refund requests quickly, but you fail to address inefficient refund processes, your team will feel frustrated and uninspired.

Blue Ocean Leadership encourages leaders to discuss with their team the obstacles that prevent them from doing their job effectively. You need to ask how your actions can impact their productivity. You also need to ask whether there is anything you can do to help. Lastly, you also need to make sure your team has everything they need to succeed.

When team members can influence the activities that impact their performance, they feel as if their opinion matters. This, in turn, will likely increase their motivation to perform at their utmost best.

Step 3: Distribute Leadership Across Different Management Levels

Blue Ocean Leadership focuses on distributing leadership. This is when leaders at every level of an organization are able to deliver high performance, not just those at the very peak. When done correctly, responsibility is pushed down through each level of management, reaches every team member, and typically results in peak performance throughout the organization.

This step is about ensuring that every leader in your organization is committed to positive change. The key here is that every leader, regardless of their level within the organization, needs to take the necessary actions for their team to succeed.

Blue Ocean Leadership recognizes that different levels of management require different skills depending on their tasks, the degree of power they retain, and the environment in which they work. Kim and Mauborgne recommend creating leadership profiles for each level to improve individual and organization-wide performance. to encourage company-wide support, the profiles are developed by a cross-section of managers and non-management team members. This mix of management and non-management are tasked with evaluating activities in their team to identify:

  • Low-Impact Activities or tasks that take up a lot of time, but gain limited results
  • High-Impact Activities or tasks that get results, but don’t have a lot of backing from leadership

Team members are invited to suggest high-impact activities they believe could benefit the greater team. The group then uses the findings to draft an ideal leadership profile. One which highlights the type of leaders best suited to each level of management. This is then presented to senior managers and board members, who work to match leaders to these profiles throughout the organization.

Step 4: Pursue High-Impact Leadership Acts and Activities at Low Costs

Kim and Mauborgne suggest that most consider leadership practices as additional responsibilities to pre-existing workloads. Blue Ocean Leadership recognizes this and provides the means to trim down your to-do list. This, in turn, allows leaders to focus on the tasks that will better set their team members up for success.

This step is about motivating your team by making sure that the tasks they work on are engaging, relevant, and worthwhile for both the individual and the organization. Kim and Mauborgne call these “high-impact” tasks.

Kim and Mauborgne outline how your team can resent certain tasks that are time-consuming and underappreciated by management. These often include things like complicated file-naming conventions and lengthy procedures for achieving data. Naturally, there are always going to be jobs that are boring. This step is about reducing the number of activities that have the lowest impact and yield the smallest results. If applied correctly, you’ll have more time to focus on high-impact activities that motivate your team and allow them to get the desired results.


  • Blue Ocean Leadership encourages positive change and improved performance via motivating people and leading them to do what they need to succeed.
  • The four steps focus on of Blue Ocean Leadership focus on:
    • Reviewing how effectively your team completes their tasks,
    • Setting attainable goals
    • Leadership buy-in to positive change
    • Ensuring that your team works on engaging and meaningful tasks

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