Collaborative leadership is not new. Fifteen years ago I went to training on the subject. But I often do not see it in use. When I work with executives, managers and leaders, I use this model because it produces the most success. David Chrislip and Carl E. Larson, in Collaborative Leadership – How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference, equate collaborative leadership with servant, transformational and facilitative leadership. It starts from the premise that “…if you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community.”
A collaborative leader tries to involve everyone in the organization in leadership. She is truly first among equals, in that she may initiate discussion, pinpoint problems or issues that need to be addressed, and keep track of the organization as a whole, rather than of one particular job. But decisions are made through a collaborative process of discussion, and some form of either majority or consensus agreement.
A collaborative leader tries to foster trust and teamwork among the staff as a whole, He breaks down walls and silos, and builds close cross functional relationships based on trust and communication. He uses strong relationship skills and influence to lead a horizontal team.
A collaborative leader has to let go of the need for control or power or status if she is to be effective. Her goal is to foster the collaborative process, and to empower the group to control the vision and the workings of the organization. She must trust that, if people have all the relevant information, they’ll make good decisions. She must make sure that they have that information, and provide the facilitation that assures those good decisions. Unless information is shared openly across the organization, it is not possible to create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.
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 accomplish goals, build great teams for the organization, and help teams realize their vision.
Chrislip and Larson identify four characteristics of the collaborative leader:
- Inspiring commitment and action. The collaborative leader helps people develop the vision and passion to start and maintain the work.
- Leading as a peer problem solver. The collaborative leader facilitates problem solving by modeling and teaching a process, and by helping others bring their experience and ideas to bear.
- Building broad-based involvement. The collaborative leader invites everyone concerned into an inclusive process.
- Sustaining hope and participation. Reaching goals may take a long time. The collaborative leader both helps the group set interim goals so it can see progress, and, by example and in other ways, helps to maintain the passion and commitment to keep going when there’s no end in sight.
Collaborative leadership can be learned as it is a process and model, not a trait. Coaches, like me, can help executives employ the aspects of collaborative leadership that fit their processes and people.