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To Ego or to Eco? That is the question

“Build back better” is fast becoming the phrase of 2021.  As many of us tentatively emerge from enforced isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, talking heads pop up endlessly on the news to express their foresight on the future of work, technology, the environment, and transport. 

We are witnessing a seismic shift in how office-baseD employees may work in the future.  The coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of technology that has supported millions to continue to work from home and this, more than anything else, has enabled the survival of many organisations. 

However, it is not only office-based workers who have experienced change.  Key workers who continued to travel to their place of work to keep the country functioning have also experienced changes with social distancing measures affecting how they interact with colleagues, customers, suppliers as well as the public.

The unprecedented changes will continue as we will all have to adapt to a virus that will become endemic.   We will require leaders with business foresight as well as emotional antennae to motivate, nurture and empathise with employees and stakeholders.  This is particularly true of membership bodies which are themselves wrestling with how they can “build back better” in a post-pandemic world. 

In most cases, taking the lead on “build back better” will be the Chief Executive or equivalent in whom employees, trustees and stakeholders will be placing their trust.  So what are the leadership skills needed for Chief Executives to succeed in a post-pandemic world where employees have raised expectations about how, where and when they work as well as members who will look to their industry body for trusted advice to navigate the new landscape?

The concept of Ego and Eco Leadership styles has been around for a while and is either or both preferable for the “build back better” agenda?

Ego leaders work within the structures of an organisation to bring clarity and focus on what needs to be done.  Ego leaders are good at setting goals to drive change through the mobilisation of resources, particularly during a crisis when rapid decision making is required such as when lock down happened.  However, Ego leaders tend to link their identity to their status and if they are not careful, they may be perceived as basking in the limelight without recognising the contribution of others.

On the other hand, Eco leaders understand that their organisations exist in a wider ecosystem and is dependent on others.  They lead by emphasising the purpose of the organisation to deepen engagement with others.  Eco leaders foster an environment where decision making is distributed to self-managing teams who are trusted, empowered, and motivated because that is where the knowledge resides.  Eco leaders are proactive at networking, tirelessly collaborate to break down barriers and embrace change as a positive force for good.  In the post-pandemic world, where environmental sustainability will be one of the lenses through which membership bodies will evaluate the impact of their work, Eco leaders will thrive because they will engage employees, develop new ways of working with stakeholders, and network with the wider ecosystem to foster interdependent ways of working.

So what type of leader in the post-pandemic world is most likely to be successful at “build back better”?  Will it be the Ego leader who takes charge, sets goals and drives from the front or the Eco leader who empowers teams, builds networks and fosters collaborations to achieve a higher purpose?  

About the author

Dr Marcia Philbin

Dr Marcia Philbin has been the Chief Executive of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine (FPM) since June 2019.  She spent over 20 years in different agencies of the Ministry of Defence, first as a scientist after completing her degree and PhD in Chemistry and then as a manager where she worked on high profile programmes.  Before joining FPM, she was the Assistant Director for Research and Policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.  Dr Philbin has also served a two year term as a Non-Executive Director of a NHS Trust.  Currently, Dr Philbin is a member of the editorial board of the National Health Executive magazine.  Dr Philbin is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and sits on the Inclusion and Diversity as well as the Management Group Committees.  She is also a Trustee of a school academy. 

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