Are You a Collaborative Leader?

Adopting a collaborative approach to strategy means giving people at all levels of your organization a seat at the table through all phases of the strategy process – strategy creation, strategy implementation/execution, and strategy management. It’s a proven approach for achieving exceptional performance results and organizational outcomes in today’s new business environment.

In addition to taking a great deal of courage, practicing collaborative strategy requires a new leadership style. One that’s built solidly on the idea that people and organizations can’t thrive within a culture of command and control.

This new style of leadership: has a bias towards informed and empowered employee decision-making; sees employee “co-leadership” as the most powerful route to organizational success; and actively creates an environment that enables employee ownership. People who build their leadership style on this model are collaborative leaders.

Are you a collaborative leader? Take a closer look at the six associated leadership attributes and actions outlined here and use the questions under each one to see whether you are successfully practicing collaborative leadership.

1 Realize That Your Role is to Set Boundaries (NOT to control what happens within those boundaries)

Are there certain things you and your people won’t do/shouldn’t consider doing to achieve results? Is anything simply off the table/beyond your team’s responsibilities? It’s part of your role as a leader to make these “boundaries” clear to the members of your team. However, once those boundaries are set, your role as a collaborative leader is to engage your employees in defining what happens inside the boundaries. Many leaders get nervous about this idea but if you’ve done a solid job of setting and communicating the boundary lines there’s no need to feel this way.  I can almost guarantee that, when you adjust your role in this way, your employees will bring maximum creativity to the table and come up ideas and plans you would never have thought of yourself!

That being said, playing the right role here doesn’t mean that you sit on the sidelines and simply watch how the action unfolds! You have wisdom to share and ideas about how things should be done – part of being a collaborative leader involves sharing your thoughts with employees/your team. The key, however, is realizing that others have valid ideas and approaches too – and that there’s more than one way to get things done/achieve desired results.

Questions for you to consider: Do you set/re-set and communicate clear boundaries regarding “what’s in” and “what’s out” for employees/your team? Do you take the time to confirm that employees know where/what the boundaries (including behaviors, activities, responsibilities, and authorities) are?


2 Bring People Together to Define the Way Forward in

Beyond giving employees a seat at the leadership table, collaborative leaders make employees partners in defining the vision, choices, and action plan for their organization on an ongoing basis. The benefits of this approach include higher quality options and strategies, greater employee buy in for new directions and the required actions (after all, they helped create them themselves), greater organizational agility in the face of rapid change, and, ultimately, better business performance results.

Questions for you to consider: Once you have established clear boundaries, do you let employees have a say in (and maybe even take the lead in) determining the strategy and plan for achieving organizational success? Is this a one-time event or part of a regular, ongoing process?


3 Respect, Welcome, and Leverage Diversity

Collaborative leaders realize that different points of view are the greatest point of strength their organization has. While it can take time and effort to work through different opinions and perspectives, the benefit of this investment is the creation of better, more innovative ideas that have passed the implementation stress test. When putting this attribute into action a collaborative leader ensures that all voices are welcome and heard during business discussions and deliberations.

Questions for you to consider: Does your organization/team include people with a range of experiences and backgrounds? Does everyone have an equal opportunity to put their thoughts and ideas forward and do they receive equal consideration by the team at the leadership table?   


4 Create an Environment That Welcomes Participation, Innovation, and New Opportunities

Giving your employees a seat at the leadership table won’t make a real difference unless the atmosphere feels right – they just won’t contribute. Collaborative leaders work to create an environment where employees will be bold enough to make the most of this opportunity. They encourage participation by employees/team members, engage them through intriguing questions, listen to their answers, and involve everyone in lively and positive discussions and dialogue. A collaborative leader enables and rewards new ideas, seizing new opportunities, appropriate risk taking, and intelligent failure by everyone in the organization. When conditions feel safe like this, employees engage at the leadership table and collaborate enthusiastically.

Questions for you to consider: Do all employees/team members contribute to and participate in business discussions? Are they contributing ideas willingly and/or do they take the initiative without waiting to be told what to do (by you and/or other leaders in your organization)?


5 Help Others See and Leverage Connections and Integration Points

Thinking and working in silos seems to be a natural hazard in today’s fast paced business world – even with all the great collaboration tools and technologies available today. As a leader, you are often in the best position to see (1) everything that’s going on, and (2) where the opportunities for synergies and integration are. A value-added contribution every collaborative leader makes is to shine a light on these opportunities for employees/team members, share what they see, facilitate the exploration of these opportunities by employees across the organization, and enable employees themselves to create strategies for leveraging the opportunities and integration points they see value in.

Questions for you to consider: Do you take the time to look at the big picture to identify silo-busting connections and/or synergies that could help enable greater organizational success? Do you orchestrate time for employees/your team to work together to explore, develop, and implement responses to these opportunities?


6 Empower Team Members to Take Ownership

Are your management efforts focused on establishing, managing, and rewarding your employees for taking accountability for getting things done? The problem with this kind of thinking is that it’s more of the command and control management style. Collaborative leaders push beyond accountability to achieve the natural result of giving employees a seat at the leadership table – ownership. Enabling employee ownership (for where the business is going, how it works and the results it’s achieving) requires giving team members the knowledge and freedom they need to engage in problem solving activities and make decisions collaboratively and independently. When implemented within clearly defined authorities and boundaries frameworks, employee ownership accelerates the ease and speed at which your organization achieves its goals and desired performance results.

Questions for you to consider: Do your employees make business decisions independently and with the confidence that they fit with the strategic choices of the organization?Do most of your employees’ day to day business decisions move the organization’s strategy forward? How do you know?


This is what collaborative leadership looks like in action!

Are you a collaborative leader? Your responses to the various questions posed here will help you see where you are today and where your opportunities for improvement are. As you continue to develop your collaborative leadership skills just remember: Collaborative leaders act as catalysts, rather than barriers, for employee and organizational success.

If you lead people with this vision of leadership in mind you’ll be well on your way to practicing collaborative leadership successfully and effectively.