Anyone can be a collaborative leader — no matter whether you are the president, a mid-level manager or a front-line supervisor…. no matter whether you are in government, a large corporation, a small business, or a non-profit.
On the other hand, just because you’ve been elected or assigned the role of leader, does not mean you are providing leadership. You can force people to do what you say through coercion, power and authoritarianism, but that’s not leadership.
Leadership only occurs if you influence the direction people are going and unite them in accomplishing a common goal. Leadership is the result of a social contract, an understood agreement between those who attempt to influence (lead) and those who follow.
The principles of collaborative leadership center on sharing leadership. Leadership is not a role assigned to a specific individual. The person who is best prepared to advance the mission at any given moment is the one who steps forward to provide leadership. Each moment holds a leadership opportunity.
Organizations and communities are best served when each member is prepared to provide leadership when they are able and is committed to be a responsible follower at other times. Being a responsible follower does not mean being a “sheep.” When those providing leadership are creating divisiveness and harming the community, it is the responsibility of the followers to call it out.
Collaborative leadership is the most effective way to move collectively toward a positive future. But it requires a willingness to set aside one’s desire for power and control.
Unfortunately there are too many people in leadership positions that are only concerned with their own needs, driven by the desire for power and control. They create divisiveness, not collaboration, pitting groups of people against each other. The result of this divisive leadership is polarization – an “us versus them” mentality, with winners and losers. The end result is personal gain for those in authority positions, and unfortunately as history shows us, in the long run, the organization or community suffers from the poor decision-making and lack of concern for the greater good.
If you are interested in becoming a collaborative leader, these principles of collaborative leadership will set a strong foundation.
1. An inclusive vision is the glue.
When your team or organization has a shared vision or clear purpose that benefits all stakeholders, it can serve as the guiding force and the glue and you can give up the idea of being in control. 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 is not easy, but is crucial to creating engaged workplaces.
2. Create networks, not boundaries.
Collaborative leaders understand that one of their more important roles is to create communities – but not communities with closed boundaries. When you consider all your stakeholders, their myriad of relationships and interdependencies, it becomes pointless to act as if your team or organization is a closed system. What happens in one area affects other areas you could never anticipate. Distributing power and pushing decision-making authority to those as close to the customer as possible makes your organization smarter, more flexible, and more resilient.
3. Focus more on asking good questions than giving the right answers.
Crucial information is held in too many different places for you to be able to have all the answers. 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. When you learn to tolerate ambiguity, great solutions arise from unexpected sources.
4. Open the flow of information.
Technology has changed the landscape. Information is accessible, whether you want to share it or not. But that’s good news because organizations 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, changing a competitive advantage to what Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls a collaborative advantage.
5. Involve people in decisions that affect them.
People want their organizations to be successful, and when given an opportunity to participate in decisions affecting them, 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, 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.
6. Seek and utilize diversity.
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.
7. Align your personal and public behavior.
Who you are as an person is not different from who you are as a leader. Act as if everything you do will become public knowledge, because it can and it will. 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.
8. Treat people like human beings, not human resources.
People are not assets. They are human beings. Without them, there is no organization. The health and well-being of your team or organization is dependent on the health and well-being of its members.