It was September 2019 and we were a small group of ‘people professionals’ doing what we have been doing for about ten years at Primeast’s Talent Forum – discussing one of the most significant challenges to raising performance in our organisations. Every time we meet, one person brings their challenge to the “hot seat” and receives comments and questions in the room until they can make their most powerful commitment to action.
A vision for leadership
Our challenge for the day explored the intention to transform a high-growth business in the Tech industry – Visualsoft – through “more dispersed leadership”. This challenge, brought by Alix Bolton, the head of people of this vibrant business, promoted an enthusiastic exchange of views and experiences. We explored the need to co-create a characteristically unique vision for leadership, tuned to the purpose of the business and consciously in line with its values.
From the hot seat, Alix made a commitment to further explore these matters one-on-one with the chief executive.
Thinking of leadership as an ecosystem
One thought that inspired the group came towards the end of the forum when one of us described this leadership approach as an “ecosystem”. We decided to write a brief article on this. As a starter, we found it helpful to check out a Wikipedia definition:
An ecosystem is a large community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in a particular area. The living and physical components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Ecosystems are of any size, but usually they are in particular places. This is not the first time that people at Visualsoft have been tempted to think in terms of ecosystems.
Lets explore the three criteria.
A large community
The obvious question arising is what is the “large community” for the organisation? It’s tempting to constrain our thinking to the leadership team or even the wider management population. But the more we ponder this, the more it becomes apparent that all staff are involved. In this high-paced day and age, everyone gets to be a leader, bringing ideas and energy to the collective effort. And then there’s the wider stakeholder group, including customers, users, suppliers and a whole range of other, seemingly unrelated parties. Think of how an idea from another unrelated business might inspire a good idea. Or how a trend in the wider world changes the context.
There is an interesting article around the topic which said “Up until now, companies have focused primarily on training the “fish”- the individual leader or high-potential candidate – but have neglected the “pond”- the company culture and context in which the fish swims.”.
A particular area
Speaking of context, what is the “particular area”? We may be tempted to draw boundaries around our organisation. However, we live in a global marketplace. And whilst we may have a view of what is best for us, we simply cannot ignore leadership trends around the world or the evolving needs of the people who go to work for them. Their knowledge and expectations are evolving rapidly. If our leadership isn’t as good as it should be, people may well vote with their feet.
Leadership is the catalyst to transformational change in our evolving world. We also know that leadership development is essentially a “product” of organisational design and culture as levers of leadership growth. Forcing and fostering a climate of collaboration, knowledge-sharing and innovation in our ecosystem will play a great part in this.
Nutrient cycles and energy
It is so inspiring to think about these two factors in the context of leadership. How are leaders being nurtured? What is being fed to them to facilitate growth? Where do they get their energy from? As people professionals, we are immediately drawn to the vast opportunity and potential for systematic leadership development. This is definitely part of the equation. But leaders and all stakeholders are also energised by a sense of purpose and vision, a feeling of engagement, systems that work, values that are truly lived, celebration of results and success and the knowledge that their strengths are being fully utilised to deliver something they believe in.
These dimensions are clearly represented in the PrimeFocus framework shown below.
Leaders see a better future and create the conditions in which it will happen
Creating these “conditions for success” is a primary responsibility of every leader, especially those in the executive. And, as people professionals, we are well equipped to understand these dynamics and support our leaders in the establishment and design of purposeful organisations, well-equipped to play their chosen part in the modern world.
Cue the people professional
This all presents a huge opportunity for people professionals to play an integral, expert and unique role at board level, representing and communicating the people and cultural expertise within the business and sharing their understanding of the complexity of modern organisations.
The concept of a Leadership Ecosystem helps us to appreciate the external and internal links and inter dependencies of the entire organisation. As people professionals it leads us to consider:
- How leaders understand the ‘Community’ and interpret the ‘Area’ coupled with their ability to distill and convert this information into a single organisational purpose that links all elements of the ecosystem at its core. This enhances their ability to then reinforce that purpose through shared values, culture, narrative and goals.
- How leaders are nurtured and energised and the transference of that, not only to the teams they lead but also and equally to the peer groups they are part of. We can be tempted to consider leadership development in a singular context but in doing so we pay less attention to the development opportunities gained from co-development and collaboration within leadership peer groups
To survive or to thrive?
By viewing these considerations through the lens of an ecosystem we are reminded that we are all part of the whole. The question is how well our leaders, and ourselves as leaders, foster and protect all the linkages. This could well be a key factor in how well the ecosystem survives or indeed thrives.
Written by Clive Wilson, author and facilitator at Primeast with two paople from the last North East Talent Forum: Alix Bolton, Head of People at Visualsoft and Gemma Robinson, HR Advisor.
Contact Clive Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Primeast on +44 (0) 1423 531083. We would be delighted to discuss your learning and development challenges and find a way to support you.