Neil Archibald, HR Network Scotland magazine, January 2017 Volume 12 Issue 3
Learning how to win the hearts and minds of those who we lead. Now there's a challenge!
Collaborative leadership - it's all about how we make our teams feel as part of the journey, but it's also about being self-collaborative. 'The leader who cannot effectively collaborate cannot effectively lead,' intone the authors, and this is what the book is all about. Walk the talk, lead by example, demonstrate collaboration in all that you do. Not a lot to do then! But is it that tall an order?
If you're feeling brave, turn to the back of the book to take a self-test to find out what kind of and whether you are a collaborative leader. It's eye opening in that you might find you're weaker at it than you think because there's not much room for manoeuvre in terms of fitting your leadership skills, whatever they may be, into the descriptions offered unless you're suffering from ostrich syndrome (aka burying your head in the sand!) - in which case maybe you shouldn't be reading this book, given your expert status!
McDermott and Hall talk of the subject of their labour as 'being on a pathway', which is detailed in ten stages by them and is seen as akin to moving through a process. Conversely, when you're in the thick of it though leading a team and taking care of all the associated demands while trying to be collaborative and all that goes with it, there's no time to process things. You need to just get on with it as best you know how but with the ten steps at hand, issues such as being innovative in terms of how to lead through to ensuring the fruits of collaborative leadership are celebrated by all should come as easily as riding a bike (assuming you've been on two wheels previously, that is!). All a bit pie-in-the-sky for you at this point? Hold on, it gets better...
So what's the ultimate way of getting this kind of leadership to work? If you allowed yourself to dig too deep, you could get swamped in the various models referred to that talk about everything from the collaborative quadrant axes detailing what you alone can do Vs what you and others can achieve together to exploring your collaborative quotient! Eh? There's the technical piece and there's the technical piece. This is a potential downside of the book in that the text can get a little top heavy at times with theory but then it rescues itself with good practical advice suggesting that abilities such as flexibility, advocacy and being well-organised can ensure a collaborative leader will function effectively.
Leading effectively though can mean different things to different people and working environments but the injection of fun into the equation brings about an unexpected twist to the situation. While the objective of collaborative leadership can be serious, the collaboration element can be fun. according to the authors. Structuring activities in a certain way by empowering others, for example, to make decisions or take the lead on a piece of work can instil the concept of collaboration in a subtle way which doesn't have to always be seen as heavy-going or serious.
One of the subjects that I feel isn't given much airtime in the book is the fact that collaboration isn't always the solution to every leadership challenge. There are many interdependencies to take account of, such as the culture of organisations, the situational context of what kind of leadership is required and who is leading because all of these variables will determine what type of leadership needs applied given prevailing circumstances.
An interesting slant introduced into the reckoning is that those who are successful at this type of leadership need to encourage and invite others to participate. By involving third parties, it's easier to move between the various stages of collaborative leadership, such as after acting as convenor, the leader then needs to move through roles such as organiser and facilitator to get to the end goal. It's quite revealing when the mist clears to understand it's not just about someone doing it on their own but rather it's a team effort to end up working in a collaborative environment. By divvying up the tasks, we may not all be leaders in the truest sense but we're contributing to the end goal.
Working together, as it's labelled in some work environs, or collaboration, if you want the posh version! Is it all just in how you say it! No, as this work amply illustrates with its many examples and self-analysis options.