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.

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

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
    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

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.