The 21st Century leadership skills explained…
Modern-day leaders operate in an environment fraught with complexity and change.
Organisations are beginning to think, rethink and adapt. They recognise that they need to be less hierarchical and more agile with interdependent networks of teams empowered to make decisions.
The challenge is they do not always know how they need to operate in this context.
Generally speaking, traditional leadership methods involve setting targets and ensuring achievement through a combination of discipline and engagement. But this is no longer sufficient.
So, what should leadership look like for the 21st Century?
The modern organisation requires a more fluid perception of the world that regards it as being complex and unpredictable. Organisations must be seen as living eco systems rather than machines.
In our latest research, Ego, Eco and Intuitive leadership... a new logic for disruptive times, we interviewed more than 150 leaders to examine three leadership intelligences – all of which are important and necessary but distinctly different.
We start with Eco leadership intelligence. Eco leaders work with divergence, opening up spaces for diverse stakeholders to ‘think together’ across the value chain, and to develop new solutions to business problems. Eco leaders create psychological safety for diverse stakeholders to engage. They thrive in disruptive times by demonstrating curiosity, leveraging interdependencies between organisational boundaries and reconciling diverse ideas. If used at the right time in a team’s maturity, it can lead to wholeness and job-description flexibility for employees. It is essential in a matrix structure and builds organisational agility.
On the other hand, however, there are downsides, if eco-leadership is overcooked.
For instance, our research revealed that organisations can lose their way in the plethora of new ideas and projects that emerge from too many ‘talk shops’. Some staff need leaders who ‘have the answer or the vision’ and can ‘show the way’ through good top down communication. Without this security, teams may feel uncertain and thus chaos can ensue.
The other leadership intelligence is ‘Ego leadership’, which is about working with and within boundaries, bringing form, focus and speed. The ego is our sense of identity “I” and the boundary. It gives people a sense of focus and security in knowing who they are and what they want. When leaders are self-aware of their ego and are able to use its strength appropriately for the context, we see the upside of what we call the benevolent ego.
Benevolent Ego leaders are good at creating focus and setting goals. They use linear, cause-and-effect thinking and are good at mobilising resources at speed to achieve objectives. They are particularly good in a crisis as they create a sense of security in their team by bringing the needed focus and direction.
On the other hand, we should be aware of its disadvantages as well. Ego leaders can become stuck in their ego need for security, status, or recognition. When this happens they may become excessively self-focussed, narcissistic or egocentric.
Intuitive leaders can sense their way through a situation and work beyond boundaries to bring fresh perspectives.
They can tune into the possibilities of the unknown and connect the dots. Leaders described intuition as ‘an ability to see the unseen possibility’. It comes with a sense of knowing ‘what is needed to be said or done in the moment’ The intuitive intelligence is most useful when complemented by the ego or eco capability. For example an intuitive leader is able to access an inner calm and to know whether eco or eco leadership is called for in the moment.
Intuition manifests as a non-rational deep knowing. This is typical of mathematicians like Einstein and Ramanujan who intuitively saw new patterns outside the conventional mathematical constructs and the debates with colleagues. The more uncertain the workplace becomes, the more leaders will need to develop their intuitive intelligence.
Our research shows these three intelligences are completely interdependent like strands of DNA, hence our reference to them as a triple helix of leadership or like a prism of primary colours of light – each having a separate value but blending together to become pure white light. Any one of them suffers negative consequences to the organisation when overplayed to the expense of the other two. A good blend of all three is needed to lead the organizational eco-systems in the 21st century.
There are benefits in allowing leaders to stay true to themselves while ensuring that all three capabilities are contained within the leadership team to ensure a balance for the organization. In other words, the most effective leadership comes from a healthy blend of eco, ego and intuitive capabilities, whether from a person or a team.
When considering the Eco, Ego and Intuitive framework, our three recommendations to leaders and teams are:
1 – Bring a magnifying glass to your leadership intelligence to raise your self awareness of your strengths and development areas
2 – Leadership teams as a unit should cement a blend of these three intelligences – and understand when to apply each. This can be very effective for leadership teams to compliment and support each other.
3 – Consider how to focus your talent development to get the right blend for eco-ego-intuitive leaders
Raising your leaders self awareness of their specific strengths and development areas within these three intelligences, and then progressively developing more blended leadership teams will equip your organisation to thrive in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world of work.