Collaborative Leadership: How to Avoid Fears and Traps
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton
“What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Teresa Calcutta
Picture this…you are attending a leadership offsite and the facilitator asks you to form dyads and distributes one mousetrap per dyad. She invites each participant to write on the mousetrap a fear that they have about collaboration within your company. She then explains that the objective of the activity is to coach your partner (whose eyes are closed) through placing their hand on top of a set mousetrap to release it. The skills required are:
- Clear planning and goals;
- Contracted expectations;
- Effective communication and coaching;
- Navigation of uncertainty; and especially
While the activity is designed to be a challenge by choice, you might imagine that some people embrace the possibilities immediately, others might choose not to participate at all or observe, and still others may stop participating half way through…right before coaching them to put their hand on top of the trap with their eyes closed. Similarly, we see comparable patterns with those who collaborate in business settings.
This activity is a powerful reminder of how difficult it is to overcome both the fears and challenges faced when we collaborate with others. Consider this example. A corporate board directed their Executive Leadership Team (ELT) to improve their company’s financial and operational outcomes and recommended the integration of their four business units into one. The ELT decided to give the four business unit Presidents complete authority and accountability to decide how to make this work over six months. As one can imagine, the four leaders had mixed reactions about the decision. It would have been easy for each to focus on protecting their own organization rather than collaborating to achieve a common goal.
In situations like this one, the power of relationships and collaboration is critical for success. In fact, in low-collaborative cultures with both short-term risks and costs for all involved, we witness barriers such as hoarding of information, a desire to control the power, and more self-interest rather than work toward common goals using trust, purpose, communication and empowerment. Yet, collaborative leaders who have built strong cross-functional relationships and trust are more likely to commit to enterprise-wide goals rather than their own individual or business unit goals. They focus on doing what is right for the organization as a whole.
Download our Building Collaborative Leadership Potential checklist to learn more. To build more collaborative cultures and high performance teams, contact:
Excursion Learning Practice Lead