Knowing how to collaborate and build influential partnerships in their organization is a key skill for leaders to develop. It’s also an increasingly important capability in leading the modern workforce. Collaboration combines the knowledge, experience and creativity of others and creates shared accountability. A collaborative approach isn’t always easy; hearing others out and letting them have their say requires a measure of patience. However, there are some significant benefits that come from collaboration, even when it’s hard or inefficient: People discover new insights, become less dependent on the “boss,” develop and learn, increase their capacity for innovation, and become more committed and passionate about decisions and plans.
Think about your own leadership style. Do you tend to be more directive, collaborative or somewhere in between? Do you find that you could use the expertise and contributions of your team members or others more? As you look to expand your capacity for collaborative leadership, there are three areas you should consider:
1. What a Collaborative Leader Believes
What are your core beliefs about collaboration? Collaborative leaders understand that allowing others to weigh in and offer their ideas results in better solutions. While collaborative leaders have many good ideas and opinions of their own, they realize that they don’t know everything and that their perspective is incomplete. They also know that imposing a direction, sharing pre-formed solutions or being the “early anchor” can rob others of engagement and ownership. Leaders who actively collaborate recognize that when they are less prescriptive and more inclusive, the team and organization are better served.
2. How a Collaborative Leader Communicates
While it is important for a leader to believe in and be committed to a collaborative approach, it is also critical for the leader to speak in a way that aligns with those beliefs. Collaborative leaders use an “inquiry-first” communication style that invites people into the dialogue and communicates that their point of view has significance by asking questions like these:
- What is going well? Why?
- What can we do differently?
- How can we get started?
Collaborative leaders also remain optimistic and defuse tension as a group works through issues by saying things like, “This is a big challenge, but I am confident we can get on top of it” or, “It seems like we have different ideas, but I think we can find a win-win solution.”
As you work to become more collaborative, use language that diminishes the impression of cast-iron certainty and instead allows for brainstorming and broader possibilities. During these conversations, focus intently on understanding what others are saying and control the urge to formulate a response while others are talking. There is great power in these simple communication techniques.
3. What Collaborative Leaders Do
Collaborative leaders support their beliefs and communication style by creating a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and allowing the best ideas to surface and shine. As you begin to take a more collaborative approach, pay attention to the team climate. Are you establishing parameters and allowing people to work flexibly within those guidelines? Are you respecting the right of others to dissent or disagree? Remember: Creative tension often opens a door to the best solutions.
When working toward greater collaboration, it’s important to remember that being directive is appropriate in certain situations. For example, you may need to take a directive stance if there you can find little or no agreement or common ground. In addition, when you are highly experienced, have a clear procedure to follow or are dealing with a time-sensitive issue, you may need to be more cautious about involving others. On the other hand, when people need to take significant ownership of a solution or plan, use it as an opportunity to seek their involvement and input. Doing so will enhance others’ motivation to successfully implement and sustain the desired solution.
It is no longer possible for just a few people in key power positions to make things happen. All members of the organization have wisdom to share, and all can exercise influence, participate in seeking optimal solutions to tough challenges and help the organization capitalize on game-changing opportunities.