How to grow the business sustainably and profitably? That’s the question most leaders are wrestling with at the moment. But we live in a fast changing, complex world in which no one person has all the answers. Last month, as part of our conversation about the 5C’s of facilitation, I talked about the need for Connection to enable breadth of perspective. Connections only add value when the connected people collaborate effectively so that decisions harness the collective wisdom of the group.
Seeking collective wisdom
Leadership teams come together because they collectively hold a broad understanding of the business, its different dimensions and the interdependence at play. There is an assumption that leaders will be able to collaborate effectively and decisions will be made that harness their collective wisdom.
However, there is generation of leaders in some of the most senior positions in organisations today who were lead by bosses with a hierarchical, command and control, top-down style, which they too have adopted. Combine this with the competitive nature, arrogance and egocentricity that usually leads to people being promoted to these most senior positions and you have a leadership team that is a recipe for disaster.
Most senior leaders are intelligent and they ‘get’ that they need to collaborate and that collaboration is needed in their organisations. But most of them have not experienced what good collaboration looks like let alone developed the skills to foster collaboration. Some people fake it. They pretend to collaborate. Actually, what is really going on is that they think they know best and unilaterally make decisions. This is manipulative and very frustrating for those that work with them, especially when a meeting is called with a stated intent of collaboration but top-down decisions have already been made.
Some organisations even set up collaboration departments! This reminds me of the quality movement when manufacturing organisations set up quality departments instead of imbedding quality in the work done by the people in the factories. A department responsible for collaboration just abdicates responsibility on the part of leadership and sends unspoken messages that this is not a mainstream leadership priority.
Then there are some leaders who don’t even pretend to collaborate. A senior leader in an organisation I work with said this week, “this meeting is top down and we don’t need discussion!’ Whilst there are times when top-down leadership is appropriate and necessary, the adoption of this style as the only way of working is flawed. Leaders who only work this way will never get the best from the people who work with them and, ultimately, they will make flawed decisions. These are the dinosaurs of the leadership world.
From dinosaurs to enlightenment
The dictionary definition of collaboration is ‘two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.’ True collaboration is the genuine co-creation of decisions. I will talk more about this next month. For now, it involves high quality advocacy – the ability to show your work to a group so they can understand and challenge it – as well as great listening skills with a willingness to ‘go slow to go fast’. Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great”, talks about Level 5 Leaders creating an environment in which their team can confront them with hard truths rather than surrounding themselves with ‘yes men’.
I’m not saying this is easy. It requires a shift in mindset from the old style boss, who was impervious and had all the answers. And, realizing the ‘soft’ skills required to foster collaboration are hard! Collaborative leadership requires a humility and style that I rarely see at the top of organisations.
This scarcity means there are few role models for young managers coming up through the ranks. I see junior managers struggling to conform to what leadership demands of them whilst their intuition tells them that what they are seeing and experiencing isn’t working. There is huge opportunity here for leadership development that builds leaders with a different style and skill set from the leaders of the past, one that will equip young people to lead the organisations of the future.
Our clients are enlightened leaders who see the value in harnessing the wisdom of the people they work with and have the willingness and personal fortitude to genuinely listen to different views. Some of them work in organisational cultures that support collaboration but some do not.
Both the old-style and newly forming leaders benefit from the support and expertise we can offer. If you see the value of collaboration and would like some help in making this happen give us a call at +44 (0) 1628 471 114 or complete our contact form. We can help you do this, even if you are surrounded by dinosaurs.