From ego to ecosystems: leading in a new paradigm
by Julia Culen

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Drucker Forum 2019

One of the key drivers of business complexity and volatility is the exponential increase in connectivity: the former distinction between inside and outside an organization is no longer easy to draw.

The resulting level of co-dependency and integration demands a different kind of leadership – from managing the business to leading an “ecosystem”. The biggest challenge of all may be overcoming the management ego that wants to be in control, dominate and win, even at the cost of others.

Leading in an ecosystem requires a fundamentally different quality of thinking and acting, based on trust and integrity:

  • From an attitude of “getting the largest slice of the cake” to “growing the cake together”: this is true for intra as well as inter company networks and ecosystems

  • From competition to co-creation: in an ecosystem leadership is not about making distinctions between friends and enemies, but exploring new possibilities with competitors

  • From exploitation to a balance of give and take: squeezing out margins and dumping prices hurts your partners first and then yourself. This is a system as boomerang: for better or worse, everything comes back to you – but you have no way of knowing when and how

  • From pressure to purpose: rather than creating pressure for results, leaders create a pull by a shared purpose, to which people, partners and network actors will be motivated to contribute

  • From controlling actions to creating beneficial conditions: Instead of directing by command-and-control, leaders of ecosystems create the conditions or context for action: clear intention, sufficient resources and an empowering work atmosphere that allows for trust, creativity and energetic action

  • From linear thinking to systems thinking: Linear thinking works in a world of of direct input-output relations, but not in ecosystems, that are organisms rather than programmable machines. They are constantly changing their state, and everything is the cause for everything. Rather than business school teachings, leaders can learn from disciplines like systems thinking, cybernetics, constructivism and wisdom tradition how to powerfully navigate complex living systems.

  • From fire-fighting to pattern recognition: Rather than fixing problems as they occur, leaders learn to look deeper into the situation, recognizing and addressing recurring dysfunctional patterns

  • From limitation of the thinking mind it all to cultivating human potential: Navigating the unknown and unknowable requires the full human potential. Empathy, emotional intelligence and intuition are to be cultivated in addition to the rational mind.

To lead an and within an ecosystem is to make the transition from heroic doer and decision-maker to more modest enabler and facilitator, creating conditions for others to act and co-create powerfully. I have seen managers transition into true leaders, finding joy in helping others grow, connect and thrive while cultivating inner space and freedom for themselves.

About the Author:

Julia Culen is a consultant, coach and researcher, committed to building sustainable organizations together with her clients. She publishes ideas, models and case studies on her blog.

This article is one in the Drucker Forum “shape the debate” series relating to the 11th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Power of Ecosystems”, taking place on November 21-22, 2019 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF19 #ecosystems

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