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Building Your Leadership Ecosystem

Building Your Leadership Ecosystem

By Todd AverettLeading People Partners, LLC

In many cases, I am struck by how often the first impulse is to address issues with training.  Training can be a very effective way of dealing with some leadership issues, particularly with those issues related to lack of skills or knowledge.

Far too often, however, I see that organizations have not looked at their broader Leadership Ecosystem– the culture, interactions, relationships, and processes that come together to make leadership “work” in organizations—to diagnose what might be going on with leadership in their organizations.

The term “ecosystem” appears to have first been used by the British botanist Sir Arthur George Tansley in the 1930’s. He wrote about the concept as a way to talk about how organisms interacted with each other in the environment as a system, and how changes in one organism could impact other organisms and the system as a whole.

More recently, the term ecosystem has been used to describe how interconnecting parts of a system work together, such as the Apple ecosystem, where software, cloud services, and hardware are designed to work seamlessly together.

Just as there are biological and technology ecosystems, each organization has its own Leadership Ecosystem. The Leadership Ecosystem describes the culture, interactions, relationships, and processes that come together that creates the leadership environment within our organizations. This Ecosystem exists whether the organization is deliberate about it or not.

The relationships between the components of the Leadership Ecosystem are critical.  Just like in nature, a change in one part of the Ecosystem will very likely impact other parts. A system that is “balanced” –aligned so that each part is aligned to a common set of objectives, and each part of the system reinforces the other—will generate strong leaders consistently over time.

Organizations that want to address leadership issues should look at their Leadership Ecosystem to diagnose how the system is working. Here are some key parts of the Ecosystem:

  1. Leadership Modeling (by far the most important part of the Ecosystem) - Top-levels leaders who effectively model the leadership behavior that is expected. - Leaders that do not model the desired behavior are counseled and/or exited.

  2. A Leadership Strategy that clarifies how the Leadership Ecosystem will be designed and implemented within the organization.

  3. Commonly understood, clear expectations for leaders— expected attributes, behavior, skills, and experiences that are required of leaders to both drive results as well as reinforce desired culture.

  4. A process to effectively select and onboard leaders that have the needed experience for the role AND are a fit for the desired culture.

  5. A process to evaluate leadership performance and to provide feedback to leaders.

  6. An ongoing development system to develop both new and experienced leaders and to enable them to effectively learn on the job.

  7. A process to reward and recognize good leaders.

  8. A focus on enabling leadership performance and removing barriers to effective leadership.

You can see from this overview of the Leadership Ecosystem that one component of the Ecosystem can have a very big impact on the other parts. For example, if the top level leaders do not consistently role model the desired leadership behaviors, the system will be out of alignment and impact the remaining parts of the system.

Only item #6 addresses leadership development. This is a very critical part of the ecosystem, but only one part. A fantastic training program, delivered without understanding the context of the rest of the Ecosystem, will simply not have the impact it might have. Thousands of dollars—or more—can be wasted if the Leadership Ecosystem is not understood or taken into account as training or coaching is designed and delivered.

Here is a simple diagnostic that you can use as you are considering challenges with leadership within your organization:

  1. Consider the type of leadership issue or challenge that is occurring. Which of the Leadership Ecosystem factors appear to be the most related to this issue occurring?

  2. Identify how the Leadership Ecosystem factors impact one another to create the current issue. For example, does the fact that there are no real clear expectations for leaders in your organization seem to impact how you are developing them? Or how you are evaluating them? Probably so!

  3. What components of the Leadership Ecosystem, if addressed, would have the most positive impact on the issue?

  4. If those components are addressed, how would they impact the other components of the Ecosystem?

  5. Given your assessment, what makes sense to do now?

As a general rule, particularly in our complicated and busy world, we tend to gravitate towards quick assessments and quick fixes. However, if we are willing to step back—even a little—and look objectively at our Leadership Ecosystem, we can have much greater clarity and insight on what may be driving our leadership challenges.

That clarity and insight will allow us to better focus our time and resources so that we have the right leaders that our organizations need today—and tomorrow.

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