What Is a Collaborative Leader?

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, observed how his staff members were utilizing a new social media platform. com, had an epiphany. His business had created Chatter, a Facebook-inspired application for businesses that lets users share ideas and information with coworkers and customers. Internally, not just in their own work groups but throughout the entire company, the employees had been testing it out. Benioff observed as he read the Chatter posts that the management team was frequently unaware of many of the individuals who had crucial customer knowledge and were generating the most value.

Benioff was aware that the rank-and-file’s view of top management was just as hazy. For instance, the company’s annual management off-site was approaching, and he could tell from speaking with employees that they were curious about what transpired at that gathering when it was held behind closed doors. They believed we were chanting and wearing robes, he claims.

The 200 executives who attended that meeting were greeted in an unusual way. All 5,000 Salesforce. com employees had been invited to join them—virtually. The special Chatter forum created for the off-site meeting was displayed on large TV monitors placed throughout the meeting room. Each manager received an iPod Touch, and each table was equipped with an iPad so that attendees could post to the forum. All employees could view the meeting live through a video service, and they could beam in and immediately voice their opinions on Chatter.

The meeting began with the standard presentations. The managers watching them weren’t quite sure what to do. Nothing unusual happened at first. Last but not least, Benioff reached for the iPad on his table and added a comment to Chatter, highlighting what he found intriguing about what was being said and adding a joke to liven things up. Employees watching from their offices responded with a few comments after some in the room had already made some. The snowball started rolling. Benioff claims that the meeting “suddenly changed from a select group to the entire company participating.”

In the end, the conversation continued after the meeting for several weeks. Benioff has also been able to better align the entire workforce with its mission by promoting dialogue throughout the entire organization. The incident acted as a catalyst for the company to develop an open and empowered culture.

Like Salesforce. Managers and employees at com work more cooperatively than ever before with suppliers, customers, governments, and universities, in addition to within their own organizations. Global virtual teams are the norm, not the exception. With the help of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, videoconferencing, and a number of other technologies, connectivity has increased dramatically, opening up new possibilities for collaboration that were previously impractical.

The need for a new playbook in this hyperconnected environment is widely acknowledged by executives. Those who used a “command and control” approach to climb the corporate ladder in silos may find it challenging to adapt to the new circumstances. On the other hand, managers who attempt to lead by consensus may find that decision-making and execution quickly come to a standstill. Crafting the right leadership style isn’t easy.

We’ve studied what it means to be a collaborative leader as part of our research on top-performing CEOs (see “The Best-Performing CEOs in the World,” HBR January-February 2010). We’ve found that it requires proficiency in four areas: acting as a connector, luring diverse talent, modeling collaboration at the top, and exercising strong leadership to prevent teams from devolving into squabbles. The good news is that, according to our research, executives can learn these skills and produce exceptional long-term performance.

A guide to collaborative leadership | Lorna Davis

Characteristics of a collaborative leader

In order to be able to balance leadership and management with facilitation and guidance, collaborative managers must develop a specific set of skills and qualities. This is because they are committed to instilling a group approach while maintaining a leadership mindset. To do so, collaborative managers will often:

1. Inspire trust

The team must also have faith in the leader, who in turn must have faith in them. The majority of collaborative leaders actively work to build trust with their team members by being open with them, giving them freedom, and asking for feedback.

2. Motivate with positivity

Collaborative leaders are excellent motivators. Collaborative leaders aim to inspire their team members to perform at their highest level through encouraging feedback and incentives rather than mistrust and dread, in contrast to some other leadership styles that rely on fear and severe consequences to promote productivity and performance.

3. Delegate responsibilities

Although collaborative leadership is all about group discussion and consensus, the collaborative leader is aware that each team member has a specific set of skills. By assigning specific, skill-based tasks to team members, the collaborative leader aims to enable each member of the team to contribute to the best of their ability.

4. Communicate clearly

Communication is an absolutely vital skill for a collaborative leader. The collaborative leader must be able to clearly state the meeting’s or situation’s objectives in meetings, particularly when seeking input or feedback, as well as efficiently gather and analyze the data the team provides.

5. Takes risks

Often, collaborative leaders are open to risk-taking. In order to inspire their team members to take risks and look for creative solutions to issues and challenges, they cultivate a sense of community and an environment that values respect and creativity. Collaborative leaders are prepared to give up some productivity from unsuccessful ideas in order to find truly original and cutting-edge solutions.

6. Solve problems

A collaborative leader must continually learn in order to have a foundational understanding of the business’ objectives and the industry. The key is understanding how to use that data to organize thoughtful discussions and carry out original decisions.

7. Believe in transparency

Collaborative leaders must be transparent with their teams. Since they actively seek feedback and suggestions from their staff, they must provide them with the information about company metrics and goals so that they can make data-driven decisions.

8. Mediate conflict

Collaborative leaders are not conflict-averse. They are aware that disagreements are a necessary component of any group dynamic. When conflict arises in team meetings, collaborative leaders facilitate a constructive discussion to try to resolve the problem at hand and enhance relationships within the group rather than trying to avoid it.

9. Build relationships

Collaborative leaders must seek to work with others. Many conventional management methods have a vertical structure, with the boss at the top and the subordinates below. In order to give every employee in the organization a chance to contribute, collaborative leaders work to establish relationships on both a vertical and horizontal scale.

What is collaborative leadership?

Before making decisions or taking action, collaborative leadership is an inclusive leadership approach that aims to collect feedback and ideas from various sources. A relatively new style of management called collaborative leadership places the traditional director in the position of a facilitator rather than an independent one.

Information is shared, decisions are made by the group, and solutions are found after taking into account the opinions of the entire team when collaborative leadership is in place. Additionally, everyone is accountable for both their individual tasks and results as well as the group’s overall outcomes.

Examples of collaborative leadership

Collaborative leadership can take a variety of forms. Examine these workplace illustrations of collaborative leadership to see how it might apply to you or your business:

Horizontal teams and meetings

Traditional leadership is frequently likened to a “silo” or vertical organization of workers, one in which the leader sits at the top and establishes the direction and makes the decisions. Conversely, collaborative leaders will involve the whole team in debating options, establishing priorities, and choosing the best course of action.

This kind of horizontal approach, where ideas flow from side to side rather than funneling up to and down from the top, is demonstrated by a brainstorming session. Another illustration would be an all-hands meeting where all staff members are invited and encouraged to attend as well as to participate and ask questions.

Diversity promotion

Collaborative leadership values a range of ideas and opinions. Promoting diversity in the entire organization, at meetings, and in team-building exercises broadens the range of perspectives during business discussions. Look for diverse faces, backgrounds and perspectives in your teams. If you detect a range, your company probably practices collaborative leadership.

Soft skill development

Some businesses and industries place a strong emphasis on helping employees develop their hard skills. For instance, a tech company might encourage its staff to learn more about coding or to enroll in a Go Language course, both of which are considered hard skills. Collaboration-oriented managers make efforts to ensure that their staff members are honing their soft skills, such as empathy and communication, in addition to the positions’ essential hard skills.

Goal setting

Setting goals is crucial in the collaborative leadership model. The collaborative leader makes sure that each team member has personal professional development objectives to work toward in addition to aligning their tasks with the overall organizational goals. By supporting their employees in setting and achieving goals, employers create strong communities of motivated workers.

Normalizing failure

The collaborative leader uses that experience as a teaching opportunity and helps their employees use the lesson to improve their performance on their next attempt, rather than punishing those employees who don’t meet their metrics or fail to establish an effective procedure.


What is collaborative leadership?

List of the Advantages of the Collaborative Leadership Style
  • Collaboration opens up the workplace to new workers. …
  • It strengthens the relationships of the team. …
  • Collaboration creates shorter lead times. …
  • With this leadership approach, each decision is balanced.
  • It improves the morale of the team.

Who are famous collaborative leaders?

Employees are more motivated as a result, feel more trusted, and are more likely to take responsibility for their work. Managers and executives can foster an inclusive environment that energizes teams, unleashes creativity, and fosters a work culture that is both productive and joyful through collaborative leadership.

What are examples of collaborative leadership?

Resetting your organization for collaborative leadership
  • Build a bridge of trust. …
  • Encourage the adoption of a shared purpose. …
  • Develop diversity. …
  • Accept and encourage initiative. …
  • Be information sharers, not information hoarders. …
  • Create transparency in decision-making. …
  • Understand that conflict can be constructive.

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