Collaboration
Everything you need to know about collaborative leadership skills
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Collaborating among several groups and/or individuals to address a complex issue, requires collaborative leadership. Collaborative leadership is about maintaining a process that includes everyone involved in a task. This process depends on; collaborative problem solving and decision making. Graph Tablets
What is collaborative leadership?
Collaborative leadership is defined by a process, rather than by what leaders do. It has a lot in common with both servant leadership and transformational leadership. Collaborative leadership can be deployed in almost any situation, and is practiced in some businesses with great success. People sometimes find it useful in situations where “no one is in charge,” where there are issues or problems so complex that not one person has either the information or the power to change them. This means that they share responsibility for the issue is necessary in order to arrive at a successful resolution of it. While it can be practiced in a number of ways, good collaborative leadership is almost always characterised by some specific traits. The most important:
  • Collaborative problem-solving and decision-making. It’s not the leader’s job to decide what to do and then tell the group. Rather, the group considers the problem, decides what to do, and counts on the leader to help them focus their effort.
  • Open process. The leader doesn’t just start with their goals in mind and steer the group in that direction. Collaborative leadership means that the process of decision-making is truly collaborative, and has no set end-point when it begins. The end result is worked out among all the participants: that’s collaboration.
  • The leadership of the process, rather than the group. The purpose of collaborative leadership is to help the collaborative process work, rather than to lead the people involved in something – to a particular decision, for instance, or in a particular direction.
There are some differences between collaborative leadership within an organisation and collaborative leadership among organisations. In the first case, a leader may have to spend much of their time initially trying to coax people to take leadership roles in certain circumstances, or even to participate in collaborative decision-making. In the second instance, a leader’s biggest task may be to keep everyone from trying to lead in different directions all at once.
Why practice collaborative leadership?
A partnership or other collaboration will always function best with collaborative leadership. Most other organisations and enterprises may function without collaborative leadership, but there are benefits that collaborative leadership can discuss even in situations where there are other possible choices.  
When is collaborative leadership appropriate?
Collaborative leadership is not always the best solution for a particular group. In the military, for instance, particularly in a combat situation, collaborative leadership would be fatal: while the group carefully worked out its plans, it would be overrun. There are numerous other situations – often related to how quickly decisions have to be made and how decisively people have to act – where collaborative leadership wouldn’t work well. Time is clearly a factor, as is the ability of a group to gather and digest information, its level of experience and judgement, its freedom to act, etc. So how do you know when to employ collaborative leadership? Here are some possibilities to consider:
  • The timing is right. Good timing is often necessary for collaborative leadership to succeed. When circumstances conspire to bring a situation to a crisis point, which can break down barriers and convince otherwise-reluctant stakeholders that they need to collaborate. By the same token, when things are going well, there may be the time, the funding, and the common will to take on a new collaborative effort.
  • Problems are serious and complex. This is the kind of situation, referred to earlier, when no one is in charge. It’s impossible for any one individual or group to solve the problem by tackling it alone. At the same time, the seriousness and complexity of the problem mean that it’s in the self-interest of the individuals and groups involved to put turf issues and the like aside, and to collaborate on dealing with it.
  • A number of diverse stakeholders, or stakeholders with varied interests. In order for these stakeholders to work together, collaborative leadership is needed to build trust – both among stakeholders and in the process – and to make sure that everyone’s agenda is heard and honestly considered.
  • Other attempts at solutions haven’t worked. Individual organisations or officials may have tried to deal with an issue and failed, or a coalition may have faltered because of internal conflict and/or inability to generate effective action.
  • An issue affects a whole organisation or a whole community. If everyone’s affected, everyone needs a voice. Collaborative leadership can provide the opportunity for all to be heard and involved.
  • Inclusiveness and empowerment are goals of the process from the beginning. A coalition that has set out, for instance, to broaden political participation throughout the community would do well to operate with collaborative leadership and a collaborative process. Such a structure would give it credibility among those it’s trying to reach, and would also provide that target population with the opportunity to develop its own voice, and to increase its ability to participate fully.
Collaborative Leadership Characteristics
These individuals are able to enable interactions between employees and business partners of different levels, and have the patience to deal with very high levels of frustration. The following are the key distinguishing attributes of collaborative leaders:
  1. Balanced motivations
The leader wishes to generate value, wherever they work. They are always looking to use motivation and influence to create social impact and also generate wealth for stakeholders.
  1. Not a control freak
A collaborative leader understands the real truth is that nobody is ever in complete control of external circumstances. People may follow your instructions because they fear punishment, but you can get them to genuinely commit to a cause only by truly motivating and inspiring them. A collaborative leader seeks not to control, but to inspire others and work together as a team.
  1. Transferable skills
For successful collaborative leadership, the leader must have a set of skills that are considered to be of value across multiple functions and sectors. Stakeholder management, strategic planning, quantitative analysis, and ability to motivate are some of the skills that this leader would process.
  1. Horizontal leadership
Collaborative leadership is all about breaking down walls and silos, and building close cross functional relationships based on trust and communication. The leader does not restrict their focus only on direct reports, but instead embraces the team. It takes strong relationship skills and a great deal of influence to be able to lead a horizontal team. This is the true hallmark of a collaborative leader.
  1. Risk-taking is encouraged
Working under a collaborative leader is great for personal and professional growth, because they are forever encouraging employees to take risks. They create an atmosphere of trust and security, which makes employees open to taking risks. Without risks, there will be no creativity, innovation, growth.
  1. Contextual intelligence
Since the style of leadership involves people from different functional areas across the organisation, the leader is likely to possess contextual intelligence, or the ability to have empathy for differences inside and between sectors, especially relating to culture, language, and performance indicators.
  1. Openly share information
Unless information is shared openly across the organisation, it is not possible to create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. A collaborative leader ensures a steady stream of business and market intelligence to pass through multiple teams to facilitate better decision-making, and to improve agility.
  1. Constructive conflict
When people are encouraged to openly voice their opinions and to take risks, it is only natural that conflicts emerge. A collaborative leader understands that such constructive conflict is necessary for the growth of the organisation and for fine-tuning rough ideas.
  1. Intellectual thread
This leader is able to understand a particular issue from the point of view of different sectors. Inter-sector problems are best handled by a collaborative leader because he has the ability and well-rounded subject matter expertise to understand multiple perspectives of the same issue.
  1. Strong network
Collaborative leaders do not burn bridges. In fact, he is heavily invested in cultivating strong relationships everywhere. He’s likely to draw on this strong integrated network to advance their career, or to build great teams for the organisation. Leadership in turbulent times requires diplomacy, willingness to relinquish control, and moving towards a collaborative way of doing things. Here, individuals at all levels are encouraged to take initiative and act in a manner that contributes to achieving the overall vision of the organisation. Collaborative leadership is the leadership of a process, rather than of people. It means maintaining a process that allows for the inclusion of all people involved in an issue or organisation or community effort; that depends on collaborative problem-solving and decision-making; and that is open and open-ended. Collaborative leadership encourages ownership of the collaborative enterprise, builds trust and minimises turf issues, allows for more and better information, leads to better and more effective solutions, encourages new leadership from within the collaboration, empowers the group or community, and can change the way a whole community operates.

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