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Collaborating in a world that wants us to compete

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Ten core competencies of a collaborative leader

Most of us have been groomed to compete since childhood. We compete for friendships, for better grades, for the affection of parents or partners. When we start our careers, we compete with others for recognition or promotion or visibility. It’s hardly a surprise that collaborating is not always valued in most of our work environments and few leaders create conditions for collaboration and partnerships to thrive. Despite the prevalence of hypercompetitive business models, widespread studies have shown, that most people want to collaborate, and when teams collaborate effectively, they improve their productivity and feel empowered. In essence, by pooling our collective intelligence and skills, we end up delivering the most effective results. 

What exactly is ‘collaborative leadership’?

The old phrase of "two heads are better than one," is a way to simplify the notion, but collaborative leadership goes beyond problem-solving. When effectively implemented, collaborative leadership is rooted in the belief that by working together we become smarter, therefore more creative, competent and able to address all kinds of complex and multifaceted problems. To put it simply, collaborative leadership encourages leaders to be less authoritative and more influential.  

So how do we become more collaborative leaders?

I was fortunate to have learned the following ten core competencies that most collaborative leaders demonstrate at a fellowship early in my career. Since then, I have challenged myself to practice them throughout many of the leadership positions I have held in my career. 

Be self-aware

One of the most important elements for leaders to consider is that to be a great leader, you have to have a great deal of self-awareness. This understanding of one's leadership strengths, weaknesses, values, and blind spots is key to assessing if and when collaboration and creating a more cohesive and cooperative culture is appropriate for a particular organization or a team.  

Develop real relationships

Authentic relationships among peers, employees and stakeholders, are a good way to encourage openness, which in turn makes for a smooth engagement between personnel and eliminates hierarchy in projects. This is a process of mutual empowerment whereby trust is built among peers, making it a secure environment for participants to take risks. 

Commit to collaboration

There is truth to the old saying “without commitment, nothing happens”. Collaborative leadership involves having an increased passion for teamwork, and a thorough understanding of shared accountability and responsibility. It requires a commitment to the whole, where shared purpose and contribution to the greater purpose of the task, ultimately propels the project to its end goal.   

Swap ego for influence

This shift usually occurs when the leadership starts to think of itself as part of a collective. By removing self-interest and instead focusing on joint-knowledge, the management of the organization, or project, shares power with others. Instead of the control and command approach that is common in most leadership, collaborative leadership asks for a more influential and communicative approach, whereby power structures are replaced with mutual support.  

Communicate and foster trust 

Trust is a powerful thing, not only does it build confidence among teams, but it also makes it easier to communicate with intention. Allow yourself to use as many modes of communication as possible, make sure everyone is heard, create learning tools and start open-ended dialogues and discussions about the decision-making and problem-solving processes. 

Create opportunities for dialogue

As per above, collaborative leadership requires continuous conversation. It requires being strategic about how, when and where dialogue will happen, whether it will be done as part of a huddle, in-person or through teleconferencing - it could also be through other means of collecting and sharing input. This is done so that responsibility and accountability are strengthened through discussions so that the team reaches its end goals effectively. 

Focus on a collective purpose

'Purpose' is the state by which we inspire people to do better. Once you have unshakably committed to your goals and shared your purpose with your peers, you will see a rise in the collective success of projects, as well as an increase in high-quality participation. 

Embrace diversity

Engaging with peers and communities on various levels is a way of showing respect and honoring differing identities, personalities and perspectives. Don’t be afraid to be inclusive, ask questions, explore the environment and discover new ground. By embracing the diverse nature of your team, you'll see emergent patterns in attitudes, and maybe even find solutions to key problems in unimagined places. 

Sustain commitment

The success of any collaborative leadership lies solely on how deep the drive and commitment to collective goals are within the team. Sustaining this commitment requires an understanding of the diverse interests of the team, aligning agendas and continuously replacing egos with influential mindsets. 

Show gratitude

When you do good, the whole team does good - and vice versa - that’s the principal idea behind collaborative leadership. Learn to appreciate the values and attributes of your team, because that inclusivity is what ultimately leads to success. And any individual or collective success should be recognized and celebrated often.

What are your opinions about collaborative leadership styles? How has it impacted your leadership? 

Sahra Noor