Want to Lead an Ecosystem? Adopt these 4 Mindsets (Part 2)
Leading an ecosystem is vastly different from leading any single organisation. Traditional styles of leadership and planning systems based on command and control aren’t going to work well. Ecosystem leadership requires different mindsets.
In Part 1 of this series on Ecosystem Strategy, we talked about three reasons why you want to have an ecosystem strategy and gave you 6 steps for kickstarting an ecosystem.
In this article, we share why leading an ecosystem is different and mention four mindsets that you’ll need to be a successful ecosystem leader.
How did business leaders like Jack Ma of Alibaba and Robin Saxby of ARM galvanise their people and their partners to build sustainable and profitable ecosystems? From uncertain beginnings through the process of scaling up, and facing continuously changing environments, they innovated, flexed and evolved their way to success. Ecosystem leaders may all have different leadership styles, but what is common is their mindsets. As defined in a Harvard Business Review article on great leadership,
Mindsets are leaders’ "mental lenses that dictate what information they take in and use to make sense of and navigate the situations they encounter.” They drive what leaders do.
In a more traditional organisation, a good business leader is one who can define clear goals for their organisation and achieve them. However, you need to remember that the real value of an ecosystem lies in breaking away from the limitations of such a linear approach, and instead, realising an agile vision that brings value to its participants.
As the goals of an ecosystem are different from traditional organisations a good ecosystem leader requires a change in thinking and adoption of these 4 recommended mindsets.
1. Belief that there is an opportunity to create new value for potential customers
First, you need to have an unshakeable conviction that there is a great opportunity to create new customer value through growing an ecosystem. For example, Jack Ma was certain there was an opportunity to offer China’s growing middle-class more convenience and more choice using e-commerce. This is different from setting a defined goal with a set way of getting there. Instead, it is a vision that is open to innovation and co-creation. When you keep your eyes tightly on what the value you want to create is, you will be able to work with the challenges and uncertainties that come your way.
2. A deep conviction that no single company can unlock the value opportunity acting alone
All the CEOs that were studied in Ecosystem Edge knew they couldn’t do it alone. They also felt that slotting allies into fixed roles, like in a conventional supply chain, also wasn’t the answer. Instead, they believed that the only way to grab hold of the unique opportunity they saw was by attracting and harnessing the capabilities and potential of partners. For example, Haier did this by building the Haier Open Partnership Ecosystem (HOPE) platform—bringing together a global network of technical partners and resources, matching solutions providers with innovation challenges.
This is a shift of thinking for most business leaders who usually prefer to keep operations in-house to maximize returns. This way of thinking is limiting and misses out on the strengths that partners bring, and on the learning and innovation that can happen when working with partners.
3. A focus on attracting, engaging and motivating people who are not necessarily their employees
As an ecosystem leader, you must keep in mind that most of the people that you need to motivate and inspire don’t work for you! This is because you are leading across a whole network, not just your own employees. So, you’ll need to invest a considerable amount of time and effort into engaging, educating and encouraging people beyond your employees.
4. A relentless focus on growing the size of the overall ecosystem pie
To lead an ecosystem, you can’t think of business as a zero-sum game. Instead, you need to focus on creating a positive-sum game, where no one has to win at the expense of someone else. Your job is to make sure everyone knows that their focus should be on maximising the value that an ecosystem delivers to its participants. If you grow the overall pie, it doesn’t matter if your partners benefit even more than you. In fact, it might be a good thing, because the more success your partners taste, the more they would want to continue being part of and growing the ecosystem, thus creating a sustainable and virtual cycle of growth.
Having the right mindsets to be a successful ecosystem leader is crucial, but it is not sufficient. You’ll need to have the right skills to go along with it. In the third and final part of this series, we look at the 4 skills you will need to be a great ecosystem leader.
This article is adapted from ‘Ecosystem Edge’ by Arnoud De Meyer & Peter J. Williamson. Some of these ideas were sharpened in discussion with Singapore Business Leaders Programme participants from 2011 – 2017. To have a deeper understanding of ecosystem strategies and how to implement them, watch our Trailblazer series here.
 De Meyer, A., & Williamson, P. J. (2020). Addressing the Disruption Imperative. In Ecosystem Edge: Leading an Ecosystem (pp. 151). Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, an imprint of Stanford University Press.