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Practical Perspective: Frontier Leadership & Ushers of Innovation as a Strategy
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 12/05/2011

County jail Jail administrators and jail managers, take stock….. The concept of “frontier leadership ushers innovation” takes stock in the evolution of knowledge management that is intended to transcend philosophy into strategy that leads to outcomes of profound difference. This notion is management’s nexus to survival, and truly a leadership challenges all leadership within jail operations today. Research on developing innovation models aimed to expand innovation management in organizations today conceptualizes theory of innovation and its evolution is considered. The focus attempts to look at leadership philosophy and strategy theory application and the advance of innovation. Much of the innovation theory literature offers solution and focus for leaders. As was indicated in our last Practical Perspectives edition [Frontier Leadership & Ushers of Innovation – Philosophy vs. Strategy], the framework can be a starting-point for researchers to initiate research in the design of innovation systems, change management and organizational restructuring (Narvekar & Jain, 2006). The question jail leaders maybe asking is, “who is best positioned to introduce change and who then ushers innovation in organization”? For this, the answer might lead to an organization’s leadership to focus on resourcing for that specifically intended outcome.

The theory on leadership and innovation appears to still be limited. However, the philosophy of management is obviously the philosophy of business. The literature suggests in the study and application of management philosophy confusion is easy. A closer examination of the similarities between management philosophy and strategy theories indicates that there is significant commonality. Philosophy driven innovation and strategic management have solid linkages that are undeniable (Anonymous, 1999). From a research literature perspective, philosophy has been slow to enter strategy research, even when how clearly relevant the subject is within many dimensions of management theory (Powell, 2002). For centuries, the study of strategy was found exclusively in the military science camps, with its moniker being seen as an art from. In contrast, not until relatively recently when scientific research methodology had improved did the study of strategy theory begin to take shape in the scientific mind’s eye. Consequently, the distinction of the two-time periods is prominent within the research literature (Brodie, 1998).

After years of academic and field study Powell (2002) has concluded strategy to be an experiential arena where philosophy matters, and strategy research is beginning to recognize this connection, but the literature reports management philosophy has been slow to enter strategy research, even when clearly relevant. Strategy is an experiential area where philosophy matters, and strategy research is beginning to recognize this connection. The philosophical foundations of strategy research are not, in my view, either radical or conventional, as the literature’s conceptualization of strategy theory portrays it to be neither objectivist or subjectivist, rationalist or empiricist, positivist or postmodern (Powell, 2002). It is highly recommended if you don’t have a working definition of these terms that you take them to your online dictionary and thesaurus to gain a better understanding; and then assess where your perspective orientation lies. The emerging realities of strategic thinking from this understanding speaks to your leadership style as you look to influence your organization. It is said to only scratch the surface of the changing environment of our jail business (Demirdjian, 2008). The strategic theory conversation today is far more than a just an occasional practice that can be adopted or abandoned at will: it is without doubt the central and most important leadership tool, and the one on which all others depend (Manning 2002).

The new millennium has ushered in new conditions that necessitated new strategic planning and management philosophy (Demirdjian, 2008). Again, the pace and scale of environmental change creating jail management challenges is forcing management to innovate strategically (Braganza and Ward, 2001). Unfortunately, strategy and contemporary philosophy on the subject often reduces it's research to semantic debates and subjectivity (Powell, 2002). Yet, strategy is a multi-disciplinary field drawing on a variety of other academic disciplines including economics, sociology, psychology, finance, political economy, and the marketing of your public safety image (Ghobadian & O'Regan, 2008). There is little doubt that strategy really matters within organizations for these many reasons, strategy allows for the coordination of activities, processes and functions and provides criteria to measure, assess and alter performance, which forces managers to think about the future(Adcroft, Willis & Hurst, 2008). Experts are saying effective strategy involves both decisions and actions; it is partly about positioning, and largely about execution (Manning, 2002). Some experts argue that strategy researchers can, with certainty and without tautology, identify sustainable competitive advantages as the known causes of sustained superior performance (Powell, 2002).

When canvassing strategy within jail operations, it appears to generally have started life with a high degree of practitioner orientation and the theoretical perspective holding sway, while today strategy appears to be academically more respected but arguably less relevant to needs of practicing managers (Ghobadian & O’Regan, 2008). Previous research indicates that core strategies consist of choices about products (restraint chair, flex cuffs, taser, etc.), markets (program focuses on felony verses misdemeanors, critical criminal thinking error curriculums, community corrections, etc.), process technology (electronic offender databases, electronic home detention, urine analysis drug testing, etc.), and administrative or management structures (lean six sigma organizational structures, credibility, organizational excellence and beyond performance, etc.) (Hoffman, 1999). Very few published developments in strategic planning processes and their implications for leaders, scholars, and practitioners within jail organizations are available compared to the volumes of material written on various management theory subjects. Certainly, serendipity is not a strategy, yet that appears to be the extent of most jail organizations’ innovation planning (Xu et. al., 2007). While much of the strategy research of recent appears to be focused on product and process innovations, organizations have been restructuring themselves as part of their strategic programs for improving their competitiveness (Hoffman, 1999). The general consensus is strategic managers need to focus on building organizations composed of teams rather than individuals, as the focus on teams tends to mitigate the effects of individual and cultural differences (Demirdjian, 2008).

Then, what exactly constitutes strategic management for a jail organization? It is uncertain if this question could ever be definitively answered. The complexity of strategy manifests itself in many ways, where the elements of complexity lie in the fundamental nature of strategy: dealing with the relationship between the whole of the organization and the environment in which it operates (Adcroft, Willis & Hurst, 2008). To frustrate the answering of this question a void in recent publications does not help advancing understanding. It has been at least 20 years since strategy was the brightest star in the forefront of management ideas (Frigo and Litman, 2001). Within the comparatively limited definition and theoretical base, strategic management along with change management and leadership have only recently been shown to be clearly intertwined (Manning, 2002). Unfortunately, what is termed "strategic" may be nothing more than ordinary one-year to five-year capital and operational budgeting (Frigo & Litman, 2001).

The Jailer’s Road Ahead….

As the jail operating environment becomes more competitive for resources, more service oriented, and more ambiguous, older perspectives about leading organizations are obsolete (Horner, 1997). One indicator of management's commitment to innovation is how it is built into the organization's strategic goals (Cottrill, 1998). As stated earlier it was hard to choose one set of leader characteristics from the list of noted scholars (Heames & Harvey, 2006). For most organizations, the transition from the twentieth century to the twenty-first has had little significance in terms of change of operations; however, the new millennium has ushered in new conditions that necessitated new strategic planning and management philosophy (Demirdjian, 2008). A study of the literature suggests leadership has become concerned over the years with organizational transformation with the notion that to not only flourish, but to also literally survive (Taborda, 1999). The literature suggests in the study and application of management philosophy confusion is easy. However, purely from an academic standpoint whatever the operating model scholar’s advice to correct for the distortions of memory, mental models, and framing, competent jail administrators should look for corroborating evidence (Davis, 2007).

The focus of this practical perspective edition is with leadership philosophy and strategic innovation and more specifically, on the influence contemporary innovation philosophy has as a dominion to introduce change seen necessary to achieve literal survival in a culturally turbulent time. The proposition that the management philosophy, traditionally focusing on quality improvement and pragmatic thinking as the conceptual paradigm that relegates management strategy thought, particularly that represented by postmodern scientific management concepts, subordinate (Washbush, 2002). A closer examination of the similarities between management philosophy and strategy theories indicates that there is significant commonality. It would appear that “frontier leadership philosophers” have offered not only what appears to be a radical new school of thought, but a complementary body of co-operating emphases that enrich our understanding of management rather than revolutionize it (Washbush, 2002). Moreover, recent study in the new field of strategy-as-practice, the concept of strategy as well as the concept of practice holds tremendous promise for the practitioner and scholar alike (Hurtado, 2008).

Contemporary authors of today, (those who fall into the category of frontier strategists who commonly offer solutions to survive into the future), often have a lot to say about the context and content of strategy, but, in recent years, they have had precious little to say about the conduct of strategy (Hamel, 1998). Many companies appear to move through strategy decision-making activities called "Strategic Planning" processes, but time and again we see and hear of broken organizational planning initiatives termed "strategic," yet they are anything but" (Frigo & Litman, 2001). Most advocates exposing their philosophies to introduce innovation and change tend to extol their own favorite processes without giving clear guidance on when those processes are appropriate and when they are not (Bjelland & Wood, 2008). What we need is a deep theory of strategy creation, which there is not (Hamel, 1998).

Leadership vision is without question key to a leader’s ability to influence (Rampersad, 2001). Innovations are one thing, but what is abundantly apparent is that having the strategic expertise to put those innovations into use is another (Anonymous, 1999). Visionary management, driven by a leadership style guided by philosophical design and not from the hip, is a key issue for all organizations (Rampersad, 2001). Philosophy driven innovation and strategic management have solid linkages that are undeniable (Anonymous, 1999). Visionary management is both a philosophy and a set of guidelines that form the basis for ushering a never-ending journey toward competitive advantage, whereby planning of strategic activities, implementation of these plans, and undertaking actions, is continuously taking place (Rampersad, 2001). Therefore, the strategic management model of this practical perspective assumes that “frontier leadership” today in competent hands structured in a systematic manner that forms tenants of strategy that can be attributed to an overarching mindset, i.e., philosophy, are mutually supporting. Some careful research indicates any other conclusion may very well oversimplify the previously mentioned concepts.

I hope this information, from a personal leadership philosophy standpoint has provide some things to consider that will enable you to frame your personal leadership into action. As was stated as the premise of this and last month’s edition, leaders are change agents, and I challenge you to consider innovation as one of your tools to bring about meaningful change within your organization that truly makes a difference in your organization and the community’s in which we serve.


Adcroft, A., Willis, R., & Hurst, J. (2008). A new model for managing change: the holistic view. The Journal of Business Strategy, 29(1), 40-45. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1443668601)

Anonymous. (1999). New thinking from Professor Ghoshal. Management Centre Europe. Strategic Change, 8(6), 367. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 349512991).

Bjelland, M. O., & Wood, R. C. (2008). Five ways to transform a business. Strategy & Leadership, 36(3), 4-14. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1476702221).

Brodie, B. (1998). Strategy as an art and a science. Naval War College Review, 51(1), 26-38. Retrieved from Research Library database. (Document ID: 25526108).

Cottrill, K. (1998). Reinventing innovation. The Journal of Business Strategy, 19(2), 47-51. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 27789811).

Davis, S. H. (2007). Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice: What's Good, What's Bad, and How Can One Be Sure? Phi Delta Kappa, 88(8), 569-578. Retrieved from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1257125141).

Demirdjian, Z. S. (2008). Strategic Management Trends in Cyberage. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 13(1), I,II,III. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1413743731).

Frigo, M. L., & Litman, L. (2001). What is strategic management? Strategic Finance, 83(6), 8- 9+. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 93606763).

Ghobadian, A., & O'Regan, N. (2008). Where do we fit in the swings and roundabouts of strategy? Journal of Strategy and Management, 1(1), 5-14. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1601653311).

Hamel, G. (1998). Strategy Innovation and the Quest for Value. Sloan Management Review, 39(2), 7-14. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 25625657).

Heames, T. J., & Harvey, M. (2006). The Evolution of the Concept of the 'Executive' from the 20th Century Manager to the 21st Century Global Leader. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 13(2), 29-41. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1184801361).

Hoffman, R. C. (1999). Organizational innovation: Management influence across cultures. Multinational Business Review, 7(1), 37-49. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 39158389).

Horner, M. (1997). Leadership theory: past, present and future. Team Performance Management, 3(4), 270. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 86922907).

Hurtado, P. S. (2008). Reevaluating Mintzberg's Strategy Schools under the Lens of the 'Theory of Practice'. Competition Forum, 6(1), 159-167. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1599823211).

Manning, T. (2002). Strategic conversation as a tool for change. Strategy & Leadership, 30(5), 35-37. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 233968171).

Narvekar, R. S., & Jain, K. (2006). A New Framework to Understand the Technological Innovation Process. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 7(2), 174-186. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1065259151).

Powell, T. C. (2002). The philosophy of strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 23(9), 873- 880. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 167168871).

Rampersad, H. K. (2001). A Visionary Management Model. The TQM magazine, 13(4), Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 270292861).

Taborda, C. G. (1999). Leadership, teamwork, and empowerment: Management toward 2000. AACE International Transactions, PM31-PM34. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 50830309).

Washbush, J. B. (2002). Deming: A new philosophy or another voice? Management Decision, 40(10), 1029-1036. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 277244301).

Xu, Q., Chen, J., Xie, Z., Liu, J., Zheng, G., & Wang, Y. (2007). Total Innovation Management: A Novel Paradigm of Innovation Management in The 21st Century. Journal of Technology Transfer, 32(1-2), 9-25. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1192548711).

Editors note: Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


  1. Maureen Metcalf on 12/06/2011:

    Hello, Thank you for sharing your research and I wish you great success as you finish your PhD. I recently published a book that is very aligned with your final paragraph - Innovative Leadership Fieldbook. The premise of the book is that leaders must innovate their thinking as they innovate their processes to successfully transform organizations because they are the change agents. This book offers a process to help leaders identify their goals and develop innovative leadership mindset as well as specific competencies. It has been reviewed by a Harvard Professor and recieved high marks. I suggest this to offer one set of tools to help leaders do as you recommend - develop their mindsets and skills as innovative leaders. As a note - the highly advanced leader is called a "Strategist" because at this level leaders are clear about their strategy as their "north star". It is what guides all key decisions.

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