• Leadership

‘Eco’, ‘Ego’ and ‘Intuitive’ Leadership – A new leadership code for the 21st century

Leaders who have discovered the power of integrating 'eco', 'ego' and 'intuitive' intelligence drive stronger business performance

Friday 15 November 2019


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Poor productivity and low levels of employee engagement bedevil organizations of all types across the globe – but some more than others. A recent Gallup report on employee engagement in the U.S., which showed 66% of the workforce to be either not engaged or actively disengaged revealed that at least 70% of the variance in team engagement is explained by the quality of the manager or team leader.

Leadership quality is built upon three key foundational blocks: knowledge, skill, and above all – style. Style is critical to the way leaders appear to those they are leading, how they lead in the workplace, and to their ability to shape an organization’s culture. A leader’s style is grounded in the blend of three intelligences, and to be effective, must fit with the way his or her workplace operates and chime with the changing make-up and outlook of its workforce.

The research shows that command and control styles that were very effective in the past may cause disengagement and poor performance in today’s complex workplaces. Now, strict hierarchies have given way to more open, democratic, and adaptive systems, and millennial and Gen C – the Connected Generations – who are now dominating the new world of work.

Through our research and teaching experience we have observed three different types of ‘leadership intelligence’ that form the basis of any leader’s style. We term these ‘Eco’, ‘Ego’ and ‘Intuitive’ intelligence. Each of these (forms of leadership intelligence) have distinctive qualities and capabilities that we believe – when used together in balance – offers a versatile leadership approach most likely to be effective in today’s complex business and organizational environments.

Eco leadership (The integrators)

Eco intelligent leaders are less self-dependent and more interdependent, having the ability to integrate diverse perspectives across the organisational boundaries. They recognize that today’s workplace is less a hierarchy and more an ‘ecosystem’ of interconnected teams, individuals and systems. They emphasise the ability to ‘adopt’ from various resources (external and internal) and facilitate ‘co-creation’ by leveraging the interdependencies between humans – and in the age of AI – increasingly with machines.

Ego leadership (The shapers)

We define ego as one’s sense of unique identity, boundary and separation, but also include its ability to shape ideas and create focus. Leaders predisposed to ego intelligence will have a tendency to rely heavily on what they can accomplish as individuals, on their personal ability to stay on top in a highly competitive work environment, to be in control, shaping the future and taking strong top-down action.

Intuitive leadership (The sensors)

In a volatile business environment relying solely on rational or cognitive processes based on the tangible current realities is often not enough. A leader needs to have an awareness of the bigger picture and an ability to sense emerging patterns and interdependencies, future threats and opportunities – often beyond the boundaries of the context they are working in. Here a strong intuitive intelligence, one that sparks creativity and fresh ideas, plays an important role. As entrepreneurs from Steve Jobs to Richard Branson have testified, intuition and gut-reaction have a key role in creativity, decision making, and innovation.

Unleashing the gifts of these three intelligences

The term ‘ego’ has many negative connotations today. We think of egotistic leaders being self-centred and narcissistic. However, there is a positive side; an ego gift. Although leaders who draw heavily on their ego intelligence typically see themselves as managing from outside their team, they are good at creating focus, setting goals and mobilising resources to achieve objectives through decisive action. They ‘make things happen’ and because of their ability to take control, bring focus and reassure their staff, ego leaders can provide a sense of security and stability.

However, in more complex and fluid environments where diversity and differences are the order of the day, the ability of ensuring effective collaboration and agility across the organization of the eco intelligent leader is more relevant. They feel comfortable with disagreement and are able to engage diverse points of view to create something new. Eco leaders see themselves as equal to their team members and with a role to coach and facilitate rather than to be the visionary leader who shows the way. They create the psychological safety for people to engage through generative dialogue and to co-create ideas and solutions. Although this approach may create engagement, it may not always be conducive to getting things done, and this is where the balance with ego intelligence becomes important.

Intuitive leadership is most necessary when organizations face the challenge of transformative change, when ‘thinking outside the box’ is required. In the current business climate, characterized by rapid technological, market, and social disruption it is an essential capability. However, intuitive intelligence is related to a leader’s confidence and courage to speak up for their intuitive insights and to address challenges from colleagues to substantiate their ideas – a cumbersome exercise within which the intuitive ideas can get lost. As a leader observed, “our leader is often so far out in her thinking that we struggle to see the relevance of her ideas for today!”

The need for balance

Overdone intuitive leadership can leave organizations lost in possibilities and dreams not grounded in reality. Overdone ego leadership can lead to tunnel vision, short-termism and a lack of creative collaboration. Overdone eco leadership results in too many ‘talk shops’, too many ideas, or an over-emphasis on stakeholder inclusion resulting in inertia. The pendulum swings too far towards eco leadership at the expense of the decision-making speed and efficiency of ego leadership.

We believe being an effective leader in a complex business environment involves finding the right balance and the agility to flex between ego, eco and intuitive intelligences. When these intelligences are misaligned with an organization’s culture or when a leader gets ‘stuck’ in a single one, leadership potential will not be fulfilled, employee engagement will decline and organizational performance will suffer. Each intelligence has a different way of engaging people and blending them enriches the staff engagement that is so critical for productivity.

Changing long-established patterns of leadership style can be extremely challenging, and requires that change is made ‘below the iceberg’ with those underpinning beliefs, values and strongly held identities. Ultimately though, the rewards will prove these endeavours well worth it, as a leader’s style offers the key to developing more engaged and effective teams right across the organization.

In the research report we offer a series of tips for developing Ego, Eco and Intuitive leadership

Download the full research report here: Ego Eco-and Intuitive Leadership

Hult Ashridge Executive Education helps organizations around the world improve their leadership talent, strategic thinking and organizational culture.

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