Ecosystem leadership means abandoning old leadership habits

Dec 04, 2017 / by Miika Soininen

Ecosystems are built on a foundation of shared goals and values. Without leadership, an ecosystem’s goals and its related benefits won’t be accomplished. As Katri Valkokari insightfully wrote, an ecosystem cannot be owned. Because ecosystems cannot be owned and because ecosystem leadership cannot be centralized, independent self-management is the only feasible leadership model in an ecosystem.

In recent years, self-management and continuous development have become the hottest trends in the field of leadership and organizational thinking. We speak of concepts such as holacracy, teal organizations or lean, but in the big picture, we aim for the same things: speed, agility, learning and accountability in decision-making. As a result, players are more motivated and make greater use of their potential. (Frederic Laloux, 2016) 

In a rapidly-evolving business environment, a centrally-managed organization is often woefully slow. When it is time to change direction, a centrally-led organization is only just thinking about what to do, while a self-managed enterprise is already trialing what might work.

The fundamental motivation for self-direction is therefore the desire to achieve a competitive advantage.

In an ecosystem, self-management doesn’t mean that no one is leading, either. On the contrary, developing a winning ecosystem requires a carefully-defined direction. Everyone must constantly and clearly keep in mind the ecosystem’s raison d’etre. A leaderless ecosystem is subject to sprawl and develops slowly – or may even collapse. However, in an ecosystem, leadership should be context-dependent – in other words, whoever is best-positioned to lead at a particular point in time should do so. This means that in an ecosystem, leadership is not given, it is taken.

Ecosystem management draws considerably from self-directing organizations. The basic requirements for ecosystem leadership are the same as in any other self-directing entity.

The basics of ecosystem leadership

1. Create a shared purpose

Can anything be managed without a shared purpose? The power that leads an ecosystem is a common purpose that should be built around customer value. A shared understanding of an ecosystem’s goals and the means of achieving those goals facilitates self-management.

2. Build trust and promote transparency

 Trust is the basis of all action in an ecosystem. Building trust always takes time and requires working and learning together. Partners in an ecosystem cannot move forward by doubting the work of others – the starting point should be mutual trust.

Trust is also a prerequisite for transparency. Transparency in turn makes it possible to achieve a common purpose with leadership based on facts. The word is that data is the new oil.  However, data has no value unless it is used. At its best, an ecosystem is like an oil refinery, which combines information to produce a more valuable refined product from crude oil.

3. Give and take responsibility

As is the case in an organization, players in an ecosystem must be able to surrender their position and give others space to take responsibility. Similarly, parties operating in an ecosystem must be ready to take responsibility for achieving ecosystem goals, even if doing so provides no immediate benefit at that point. An ecosystem is not a zero-sum game; however, a functional ecosystem accrues benefits and is more than the sum of its parts.

An ecosystem is not a sandbox built around the power of a single player. By decentralizing leadership, we put the best skills to use and create motivation for all to operate and innovate in the ecosystem. 

Miika Soininen is a Country Manager in Qentinel Finland. He describes himsef as a business minded IT professional with ten years of experience in developing new services, products and technologies with good quality. Working in several roles in tens of demanding and complex projects and ecosystems have taught him the anatomy of successful project and extensive view on different solutions, architectures and technologies. As a person he is inspired by constant development.

Topics: Decision-making, Ecosystem, Strategy Execution

Miika Soininen

Written by Miika Soininen