How to be a great collaborative leader

Collaborative leadership

In today’s hyper-connected world, the kind of leaders who climbed the corporate ladder with a ‘command and control’ style of management can have a hard time adjusting to today’s new workplace realities. Business people are working more collaboratively today than ever before – not just with their colleagues, but with suppliers, customers and other external agencies, too. And because global teams are more dispersed, there’s a reliance on tools and social networks that can put connectivity on steroids.

If you’re among this group of more traditional leaders – or know someone who is – how do you rewrite the rulebook to get exceptional long-term performance from teams without feeling as though collaboration means conceding the reins?  Here are some starting points to inspire personal metamorphosis and wider cultural and performance transformation from teams, one step at a time:

  • Tip #1: Be a global connector

Having a visible presence on social media isn’t a frivolity – using tools to ‘check in’ lets employees know you’re accessible, and allows them to bring concerns and suggestions to you, virtually or in person. Curate information and translate it in a way that’s relevant to your business’ challenges. It’s not a distraction – it’s an opportunity to lead by example and encourage your colleagues to be more externally focused.

  • Tip #2: Engage peripheral talent

Research shows that no matter how diverse a team is in terms of backgrounds, disciplines, culture and generations, they can produce great results if they’re well-led. But that diversity can be squandered by trying to homogenise everyone. For example, if you work in a multinational company, have you ever found yourself less inclined to promote a non-native English speaker because they don’t sound as “leader-like” as an Anglophone?  Left to their own devices, most people tend to collaborate with others they know well or who have similar backgrounds, but static groups breed insularity, which can kill creativity and innovation. To attract and retain the best and brightest, be prepared to mix things up a little.

  • Tip #3: Lead from the front

Collaboration in the middle can often be sabotaged by political wrangling and turf wars at the top. Many leadership teams actually don’t function as teams – each member runs his or her own “patch” without much obligation or incentive to align the company’s initiatives to a coherent whole. To encourage innovation through collaboration and partnership, leaders mustn’t rely so heavily on short term performance indicators. Depoliticising senior management, and rewarding executives for collaborating rather than promoting individual agendas, is essential.

  • Tip #4: Maintain a firm hand

Once leaders encourage a culture of collaboration, it’s easy to overdo it. If people try to be democratic about everything, they’ll end up in endless meetings and debates, and struggle to reach consensus. It’s better to aim for “diversity in counsel, unity in command”, as Cyrus the Great, ruler of Persia, once advocated. Effective collaborative leaders assume a strong role in directing teams – dynamically assembling and disbanding them as necessary – and assigning clear decision-making authority and responsibilities so it’s always understood who can make the final call if no obvious agreement is reached in time.

  • Tip #5: Loosen control, don’t lose control

Leaders need to be able to harness ideas, people and resources across boundaries of all kinds. That means building strong connections inside and outside the business, knowing when to wield influence rather than authority, and when to call time on circular discussions, quash politicking and take decisive action.

Of course, one of the key things you can do to enable collaborative leadership is embrace the use of tools such as virtual that keep your teams and external partner relationships productive, connected and evolving. Differences in convictions, cultural values and operating norms inevitably add complexity to collaborative efforts. But with the right tools, these can make teamwork richer, more innovative and more valuable. Ready to give it a go?

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About the author

Clare Kemp is Senior Campaign Manager for Northern Europe at Citrix. In her spare time she enjoys playing golf, tennis, attending fitness classes and walking her two crazy cocker spaniels. She really enjoys the flexibility of being able to work from home as she hates wasting time sitting in traffic on the M25. Connect with Clare on LinkedIn and Twitter. More blog posts by Clare Kemp ››
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