A recent article by Ashridge Business School researcher Patricia Hind opens with this discomforting observation: “Surveys consistently report that work is more often dread and drudgery rather than passion and purpose. Research shows that only 13 per cent of employees worldwide are engaged at work, productivity is at an all-time low and stress levels among employees are rising!”

With findings like this, anyone concerned with enhancing employee engagement has their work cut out. How can trends like this be reversed? How can demotivated and stressed employees be re-engaged and re-energised? According to Hind, a new approach promises to be the solution: eco-intelligence.

Eco-intelligence is rapidly being recognised as highly suited to complex spaces, where multiple options about the what and the how of operations and strategy present themselves. In contexts like this, fostering consensus through a leader’s power and influence isn’t the only way to create focus.

This method breaks with, or rather tames, “ego-intelligence”, typically embodied in the type of leader who believes they must by the repository of all answers and must direct the affairs of the organisation through command and control. Eco-intelligent leaders, by contrast, foster employee engagement by encouraging staff to bring their “whole selves” to work.

As Hind puts it: “They believe that when people feel trusted to be themselves and empowered to deliver the work in ways that they know best; they tend to give their best.”

Eco-intelligence eschews controlling employees from the outside, ensuring instead that teams or individuals build and self-manage their own control processes. Leadership is no longer seen as residing in the ego of a powerful and charismatic individual; it’s a function that can be exercised across the whole organisation.

Where ego-intelligent leaders concentrate power and control within themselves, eco-intelligent leaders present leadership as a quality to be cultivated across the multiplicity of individuals in an organisation, helping them to recognise and grow into their own potential.

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