Saturday, October 27, 2012

Collaboration and leadership

I've always been told that leadership is a lonely post; that leaders can't afford to form relationships lest they be compromised in making the hard choices. Thus, we always hear about the close inner circle, the bubble, the 'advisors' that shield the boss.

Now, we learn the leadership paradigm is collaboration. It's enough to make your head spin! To be lonely, or to collaborate?!

In a recent online issue of Strategy+Business, Zachary Tumin and William Bratton discuss the "The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential", by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese.

Their advice for the collaborative leader:
  • Focus on authentic leadership and eschew passive aggressiveness
    (don't agree to X, and then secretly do Y)
  • Relentlessly pursue transparent decision making
    (..."nothing empowers people to take good risks more than understanding the conditions for taking the risk in the first place.")
  • View resources as instruments of action, not as possessions
    (..."share resources in support of the shared goals of the entire business...")
  • Codify the relationship between decision rights, accountability and rewards
    ("Modeling the desired collaborative behaviors — showing your employees that you walk the talk — is the goal.")
Of course, at the end of the day, someone has to be "the decider"; collaboration has its limits and eventually ends "where the buck stops". (I'm not sure I can think of any more cliches).

Of course, it matters whether or not leaders are in effect "elected" and given permission to lead by their followers, or leadership is a command responsibility for which withdrawing permission is tantamount to mutiny (military and first responders). After all, if permission is withdrawn, then a leader may be embarrassed by having no followers...a floating apex, as it were, with no pyramid beneath.

So, in the end it's a fine line, maintaining a degree of myth and mysticism to reinforce the power of the office and the person, to say nothing of distance when you need it, and collaboration to mine the most from the staff, the talent, and the workforce. Some folks have it, some can learn it, and some will always be just managers.