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Secrets to Becoming a Better Collaborative Leader

October 08, 2014

Secrets to Becoming a Better Collaborative Leader

Command-and-control leaders are becoming extinct. The old days of barking out orders and expecting followers to comply without question are gone. The C&C model worked fine, when information was limited, almost on a “need-to-know” basis.

The internet and social media has changed all that. The standard today is transparency, which cries out for more collaborative leaders.

My post is not meant to be comprehensive (for that you’ll need to consult the hundreds of books on the topic), but I want to share what I’ve found most valuable in my on-going journey to becoming a better collaborative leader.

Leadership is Not About You

Set aside your ego because leadership is not about you, no matter what your preferred leadership style is.

Leadership is a deliberate choice to care for your followers first. As Simon Sinek shows us in his best selling book Leaders Eat Last, you gotta roll up your sleeves, dig in, and set the example. You must be willing to sacrifice all, for your followers. Do this well and you’ll have people who follow you anywhere and do anything for you. Don’t, and they’ll turn on you. Leadership is a social, anthropological contract that is continually violated in business today. It’s the reason why many view executives with suspicion. If you remember nothing else, remember that when you choose to lead, you become responsible for others’ well being. Act accordingly.

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve / Trust First

Inspiring people to work hard, to achieve a common purpose takes energy. Energy that comes from passion. If we can't get people emotionally engaged — then why would anyone sacrifice, share information, resources, and work with others? Especially with people he may not like, know, understand, or trust.

We must be the first ones to trust. And there’s no greater way to show that than to wear our heart on our sleeves. (Showing feelings makes us feel vulnerable — doing so takes courage.) Share that passion. Speak from the heart about why this purpose is so important, how it will make a difference, how their efforts will make an impact. When we act genuinely, people have a heck of a hard time not responding in kind. That’s because as humans, we’re built to reciprocate.

Create Simplicity

The world is complicated enough, don’t add to it. Some days it’s all any of us can handle to get into the office on time! Find ways to help your people simplify everything possible. From processes and guidelines, to concepts and instructions. The simpler everything is, the faster work will get done. And given how complex most organizations and ecosystems already are, “Simplify!” should be the rallying cry for everyone.

Ambiguity and Messiness Prevails

Get comfortable with ambiguity and messiness. The natural chaos of combining people’s skills, abilities, knowledge, needs, wants, fears, and passions will create conflict . Conflict must become a prized ingredient. I’m not talking about barroom brawls, but respectful airing of differing viewpoints is healthy and necessary. It’s as important to collaboration as sand in an oyster is to creating a pearl. Because out of that irritation, amazing innovations are born.

Give Up the Notion You’re in Control

Leaders aren’t in control. Never have been. Without followers, we’re just another voice making noise in the wilderness. Collaborative leaders relish the “grayness” of these situations. We enjoy working side-by-side with our people to solve problems and create order out of chaos. And we’ve learned that the tighter we try to rein things in, the more resistance we encounter. The greater slack in our reins, the more they look to us for direction.

Extend Your Networks

Get to know your people, in all parts of your organization, and outside it in your supporting ecosystem and beyond. Connect people inside and outside — help them forge new relationships. You never know who is going to unlock the key to a challenge or provide the missing link to a solution or from where the next great idea will come.

Tone Relationship Muscles

Develop relationships with face-to-face conversations. Help others to do the same. There’s nothing more valued than in-person face time. It doesn’t have to take hours. It can be five minutes. But five minutes of eye contact and avid, genuine listening can inspire someone who does good work to elevate their game and do stellar work. Phone’s ok. Videoconferences are better. But the best way is in person so you can shake hands and feel that emotional connection when you look in their eyes.

Share Knowledge and Power

Don’t hold back on what you know — share it freely. When appropriate, use different technologies to disseminate, and capture, that knowledge. Demand others also share. Don’t hold on to making all the decisions — delegate decision-making.

Give Credit and Shoulder Blame

Never take credit for anything good. Give it to your followers. Humility and modesty go a long way. And always, shoulder the blame for anything bad that happens. After all, it isyour fault. As the leader, the buck stops with you. Having said that, it doesn’t mean you let performance slide, or dishonesty take over. If your employee screws up (and they will), remember the old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Give them a chance to make good. Give them a chance (and the reasons) to make you proud.