Carrying on the same vein as the last post, we move forward to the increasingly essential skill of collaboration, specifically for leaders.
The Ivey Business Journal recently published an article “The Collaboration Imperative” exploring one of the greatest management challenges of the 21st century – cultivating collaborative leadership skills. Author Rick Lash of The Hay Group, discusses how in the current and accelerating complexity and unpredictability of markets that companies will “need leaders who are highly adaptive, continuous learners, able to lead diverse groups across functional disciplines, regions and cultures.” Essentially, whether across teams, borders or function leaders will need to collaborate.
The first key point in this article – that can not be stressed enough – is that the skills required for collaboration are NOT the same as those required to work effectively in a functional team. As a leader you may excel at ‘teamwork’ but this does not lend to your credibility as an effective collaborator. A Hay Group study found that most executives still require considerable development in influence, inspirational leadership, coaching, mentoring and emotional self-awareness – the competencies that are not necessarily needed for successful ‘teamwork’ but absolutely imperative for collaboration. In short, leadership skill sets have not kept up with the evolution of the marketplace and subsequent shift to flatter organizational structures.
One of the obvious barriers to collaborative leadership is the organizational culture. If the leader is rewarded based only on his departmental performance rather than that of the organization as a whole he/she is unlikely to put long term cross functional collaboration as a priority. regardless if the skill set to do so exists or not.
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Although it is acknowledged that organizational culture plays a considerable role in successful collaborative leadership, the list below succinctly summarizes the key collaborative competencies required in an individual to be successful as a collaborative leader:
- Enterprise perspective – they have a comprehensive understanding of the company’s overall business strategy and how the joint work they are leading aligns with that strategy. They use this understanding to resolve any conflicts that may arise.
- Cross-functional perspective – they understand the needs, metrics, incentives and deliverables of different functions and business units. They can align these competing priorities within the operating model.
- Customer perspective – they not only understand the customers’ interests and needs, they also know how to keep the team focused on making the decisions that enhance the overall customer experience.
- Self-management – they exhibit self-control when challenged. They have patience when dealing with colleagues who may have trouble understanding the shared purpose of the collaboration initiative. They do not take disagreements personally.
- Listen with respect – they listen objectively and respectfully to multiple opinions. They empathize with colleagues whose position, situation or perspective may differ from their own. They start with the assumption that collaborators are capable and will do their best.
- Matrix influencing – they excel at communicating with different stakeholders and influencing them to support collaborative projects.
The level of these competencies can be broadly assessed with the following questions:
1. Can this leader achieve results by influencing rather than directing?
2. Can this leader share ownership, even if it means sharing credit and rewards?
3. Can this leader delegate and let others deliver results?
4. Has this leader demonstrated the ability to motivate groups of diverse individuals who may not share her viewpoints or perspectives?
5. Has this leader demonstrated the ability to make and implement decisions collaboratively?
6. Can this leader get results even when he has no direct control over people or resources?
Now that you have self assessed your abilities against the competencies above and considered your own growth areas to achieve ‘master’ level collaborative skills and have devised a plan to become the best collaborator you can be……. I will temper this with the Kingbridge Insight for this week which is that collaborative skills and leadership abilities are not in themselves a solution. Perhaps the greatest strength of any collaborative leader is to know how to select collaboration opportunities wisely and to recognize when they are not working or not true collaborations.