Are you a collaborative leader?

Collaborative leaders understand that organizations are networks of relationships and that relationships are the glue that holds them together.

Anyone can be collaborative leader — no matter whether you are the president, a mid-level manager or a front-line supervisor.. or in a large corporation a small business, a non-profit, or a school.

Collaborative leaders create communities, whether they lead the entire organization or a team within the organization.

Collaboration is not an option – it is an imperative.

If you are in any doubt that collaborative leadership is an imperative, and not just a fad, take a look at any of these 22 articles in the Harvard Business Review series on collaboration.

Or even better yet, watch this TedTalk by reknowned futurist Don Tapscott

It will be one the best 10 minutes you spent.

The need for collaboration is driven by the current economic crisis and supported by the advances in technology, specifically Web 2.0.

What Collaborative Leaders Know:

1.  You are not in control. 

You never have been. It doesn’t matter who you are. Perhaps you can control things when you’re around, but what happens when you’re not there? You can’t mandate discretionary effort. People might be compliant, but they only give their discretionary effort when they want to. According to John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, “You cannot create collaboration if you think leadership is about control.”  He says making the shift from a “command and control” mindset was not easy, but crucial to creating engaged workplaces. There’s a lot of opportunity for other leaders to make this shift, as in their 2012 global workforce study, Towers Watson found 46% of workers are not engaged.

2.  It’s not possible to know all the answers. 

Crucial information is held in too many different places. Instead of seeing your role as providing answers, learn to ask really good questions. A good question can be worth a lot more than a quick answer because it opens up possibilities for creative new ideas and solutions. Learn to tolerate ambiguity. Be willing to wait in the land of “not knowing,” and answers will arise from unexpected sources.

3.  People want their organizations to be successful, and when given an opportunity to participate, they bring their best thinking and contribute fully.

Through involvement, people develop deeper understanding of the issues and goals and become more committed to implementing decisions. Inviting them to actually participate in decision-making creates stronger buy-in and also builds their leadership capabilities for the future and increases their level of trust in each other and in leadership.

Creating opportunities for involvement does not mean decisions need to be made by “group think.” When people feel their viewpoint has been considered and they understand the rationale for a decision, they will support it because respect and trust are byproducts of dialogue.

4.  Get used to transparency.

Technology has created the opportunity to know. Information is accessible, whether you want to share it or not.  In fact, the organization benefits when information is freely shared. People can do their job better when they have easy access to the information they need.  And it becomes possible to create productive partnerships with other organizations, change the competitive advantage to what Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls a Collaborative Advantage.

Values-driven leadership is essential. You can’t hide your morals behind closed doors. It might once have been possible to get away with questionable ethics, but there’s nowhere to hide anymore.

5.  Diversity is the bedrock of innovation.  

When diverse perspectives are combined, discussions are richer, more robust, and more relevant and we find better solutions. Conflict and creative disagreement, when focused on issues and not personalities, serve as the “grain of sand in the oyster” to produce creative new ideas, approaches and solutions.

6.  Tapping the entire network offers a huge opportunity.

In hierarchical organizations, the flow of information and decisions tends to be linear.  Although hierarchical organizations have advantages in terms of efficiency, there is a huge opportunity cost in not having access to relevant resources.

The uptapped potential in a hierarchy from McKinsey’s Mapping the Value of Employee Collaboration

Networks are messy. It’s difficult to see the whole picture.  But leadership can emerge where it is needed, not necessarily from an assigned position. And often innovation and creative solutions emerge as a result of the informal interactions that occur between individuals with different perspectives.

7.  Go slow in order to go fast.

Taking time to plan right in the beginning will speed up your implementation.  When you’re excited to get going, it can be hard to take time out to bring everyone onboard. But there’s a price to pay if you don’t – having to redo work and wearing people out. It’s costly and de-motivating. Take care of the beginning and the end will take care of itself.

8.  The health of the whole and the health of the parts are inter-dependent.

People are not assets. They are human beings. Without them, there is no organization. The health and well-being of an organization is dependent on the health and well-being of its members.

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