A new leadership logic for a new world of work: ego, eco and intuitive intelligence
Peter Drucker famously said that “in times of change the greatest danger is to act with yesterday's logic”.
Never has this been truer than today. Modern-day leaders have to navigate their way through extremely rocky terrain. As well as being political, economic, cultural and technological, modern complexity is amplified where human and artificial intelligence connect, working side-by-side in the new augmented workforce.
Within this environment, traditional parameters of leadership – setting targets and direction, then ensuring achievement, through a combination of discipline and engagement – are no longer sufficient.
Modern-day leaders have to navigate their way through extremely rocky terrain
So, what is the new leadership logic that 21st century leaders need to master, not only to survive, but importantly, thrive?
Organisations as ecosystems
Our research with over 150 leaders from diverse industries found that today’s leaders need to learn how to transform and lead their organisations as ecosystems.
Although it has become fashionable to talk of organisations and even technological systems as ecosystems, few really understand the implications for leadership. Ecosystemic leadership taps into the informal (distributed) leader network, leveraging the inter-dependencies between teams and stakeholders, as well as people and technology; optimising inherent needs and talents to ensure the required agility for the 21st century organisation.
Through our study, we discovered that three sets of leadership capabilities or ‘intelligences’ will enable organisations to make this transition:
Ego intelligence (Shaping) – the liberated ego has the capability to bring the necessary focus, create identity, boundaries and definition of what needs to be done, the ability to shape things and move them forward with speed. This is the capacity to ‘make things happen’.
Eco intelligence (Integrating) – the capability that enables matrix, or what Roger Martin calls integrative thinking, meaning that instead of getting trapped in either-or choices, leaders extract value from diverse ideas, groups of people and technologies, to create something new. The capacity to ‘allow things to happen’.
Intuitive intelligence (Sensing) - the capability of sensing into a situation and knowing what is needed, but also sensing beyond boundaries to bring fresh perspectives and insights. Intuition manifests as a non-rational deep knowing or gut feeling that is often surprising. The more uncertain work becomes, the more leaders need to develop their intuition. Steve Jobs put a high premium on intuition in search for innovative solutions, once saying: “If I’d have asked my customers (customer dialogue) I would never have developed the iPhone.”
What is the secret of successful leadership?
Effective leadership is a healthy blend of the three, bringing coherence without diluting each one’s contribution. Organisations require all three for different reasons, and well-rounded leadership is about developing them all, hence our leadership algorithm for disruptive times:
Effective, coherent leadership = Ego capability x Eco capability x Intuitive capability
Such a blend is depicted as the three colours of light (red, blue, green) which, when shone in equal intensities, produce a brilliant white, suggesting an ideal prism of leadership, but one which also blends into a rich variation of colours.
The need for shared leadership
The need for this blend highlights the importance of distributed or shared leadership. Rather than expecting a single leader to have strong ego, eco and intuitive capabilities, it is far more beneficial and realistic to allow leaders to stay true to themselves and within their stage of development. There is nothing wrong with a fish that cannot fly – just put it in the water and it will show what it can do!
Shared leadership enables organisations to work with the strengths of individuals, instead of trying to force people to ‘fly’ when they can’t (like that metaphorical fish). It means ensuring that all three capabilities are contained within the leadership team as a whole unit. Through our research we met leaders who were strong in one style, but who shared the leadership space with others who led with complementary styles, depending on what was required for the specific situation.
Leading effectively in complexity revolves around the capacity to hold a particular style lightly and to flex between styles with ease, led by the context. Top teams should ensure that all three capabilities are contained within a leadership team, if not well balanced within individual leaders.
Sharon Olivier is currently director of Open Programmes at Ashridge Executive Education at the Hult International Business School