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4 Keys To Being A Collaborative Leader

In case you hadn’t noticed, the world is changing at an unprecedented pace.

What’s driving the spectacular speed of our changing environment?

  • That little thing called the internet.
  • The use of social media by younger generations across the globe in order to communicate and protest – think The Arab Spring for starters.
  • The increase in transparency of information.
  • The new economic global environment; arising from the way Wall Street operated and the subsequent GFC.
  • The complexity of operating in a global market.

What does the rapidly transforming world we live in have to do with leadership?

All of these factors are having a monumental effect on how we do business and lead organisations. The old top down, hierarchical ‘command and control’ style of leadership just aint cuttin’ it – and instead, collaborative leadership is a more compelling approach to adopt. Regardless of the industry we are in, or whether we lead five or 500 people, working together is the way forward.

Many leaders intellectually acknowledge the benefits of collaborative leadership, but don’t know how to approach it.

There are many people who are far more experienced and knowledgeable than me on this topic (read here and here just for starters). However, over the years I have worked with senior executives, I have noticed some common themes which contribute to effective collaborative leadership in action.

Here are 4 keys to being a collaborative leader:

  1. Recognise and (more importantly) value differences. Different perspectives to your own, different cultures, different ways of doing things. Ditch the one ‘right’ way (usually your way :-)) and identify the benefits of other approaches. Ask yourself, what can I learn from my 20-something intern on this project? What can a different approach from what we normally adopt bring to this situation? Collaborative leaders are open to suggestions and ideas from others. Brainstorm to cultivate unique insights.
  2. Be willing to give up power, knowledge, information, credit. Don’t hog information. Be as transparent as you can possibly stand. Share decision making, the limelight and power. This is often the most difficult for many leaders to nail, but the most crucial step in adopting collaborative leadership. If it’s too scary to take on the whole kit and caboodle, start with baby steps. That project that you’ve completed many times? Give it to someone in your team to drive. Ask your customers or suppliers to a brainstorming session to solve a common problem or opportunity. Ask yourself, how can I share the credit more? How can I give others more decision making authority than I currently do?
  3. Make building relationships with all your stakeholders a priority. You can’t be a collaborative leader if you’re getting a “needs improvement” in relationship building. How do you get better? Ask more questions. Listen more. Take an interest in people. Make time to get to know your key stakeholders and what they are trying to achieve, what their unique strengths are, what their bug bears and frustrations are. Be prepared at times to forgo short term financial results in favour of long term results built on trust and relationships.
  4. Model collaborative behaviour at the top. Reward senior executives and team members for acts of collaboration, as opposed to those who promote their individual agendas. Be the change you wish to see in others. A culture of collaboration begins with you.

Lets face it, we often think it’s quicker to be directive, or do things ourselves.

But we need to adopt a collaborative leadership approach if we are to succeed – or dare I say it, survive.

To see a compelling example of this, watch this very clever TED talk by Don Tapscott  on the core values of openness and transparency – and how this open world can be a far better place.

How do you encourage collaborative leadership in your organisation? 

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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