Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why practice collaborative leadership?

If you ask an oarsman, “Who’s the leader of this rowing crew?” he’s likely to answer, “It depends. In a race, it’s the coxswain at the back of the boat. It’s also the stroke who sets the pace. Off the water, the leader is the captain of the boat and she’s responsible for choosing the crew and maintaining good morale. However, during a race, she’s just another oar. Then there’s the coach who’s responsible for the crew’s training and development. So, we don’t have any one leader - we have many, depending on what we’re doing at any given point in time.”

In our uncertain, fast-moving, rapidly changing world, continued success comes from having increased flexibility, creativity, initiative, up-to-date knowledge and expertise. In these terms, the traditional industrial model of leadership doesn’t work too well. There’s a price to be paid for assigning most employees to the role of followers - passive, submissive, subordinate, controlled and directed. This results in organizations that are rigid, slow to respond, out of touch, unimaginative and behind the times. To prosper, we need to explore new models to guide our thinking. The following four dimensions describe an emerging model of collaborative leadership.

1. Leaders and collaborators share a relationship where they’re able to influence each other.

2. Everyone in this relationship acts as a leader when they have the knowledge and skills required to take charge. There are no full-time leaders or followers.

3. Leaders and collaborators interact together to promote successful outcomes.

4. These interactions are focused on whatever leaders and collaborators jointly agree they want to make happen.

In this model, as in the rowing crew example, different people assume leadership roles for different issues. Managers and non-managers can be leaders and leadership is a different process than management. Management is a continuous process while leadership is an episodic one. Organizations need to develop and encourage both in order to optimize their performance.

"I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." - Woodrow Wilson

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