How to Become a More Collaborative Leader

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Lately I have had so many speaking engagements on “Leadership Presence” that I relish the chance to change course and to update my program on “Collaborative Leadership” for a client next month.

For many organizations, “silo mentality” and knowledge hoarding behaviors are wasting the kind of collective brainpower that could lead to the discovery of a revolutionary new process or product or, in the current economic climate, be the key to keeping their company afloat when others are sinking!

And it’s not just corporate profits that suffer when collaboration is low: the workforce loses something too. Individuals lose the opportunity to work in the kind of inclusive environment that energizes teams, releases creativity and makes working together both productive and joyful.

Here are a few points that I will be covering in that upcoming virtual session to help participants build their collaborative leadership skills:

Realize that silos can kill your business. Silo mentality is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture. Silo is a business term that has been passed around and discussed in many boardrooms over the last 40 years. Unlike many other trendy management terms this is one issue that has not disappeared. Silos are seen as a growing pain for organizations of all sizes. Wherever it’s found, a silo mentality becomes synonymous with power struggles, lack of cooperation, and loss of productivity.

Build your collaboration strategy around the “human element.” In trying to capture and communicate the cumulative wisdom of a workforce, the public and private sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in portals, software, intranets, and other collaborative platforms. But collaboration is more than the technology that supports it, and even more than a business strategy aimed at optimizing a organization’s experience and expertise. Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behavior of people throughout an organization. Successful collaboration is a human issue.

Make visioning a collaborative process. In my seminars, speeches, and coaching I’ve worked with thousands of talented leaders around the world, and one thing I know for sure: Regardless of how creative, smart and technically savvy a leader may be, he or she can’t successfully lead an organization, a department or a team without the brain power and commitment of others.

Today’s most influential leaders guide their organizations not through command and control, but through a shared purpose and vision. These leaders adopt and communicate a vision of the future that impels people beyond the boundaries and limits of the past. But if the future vision belongs only to top management, it will never be an effective motivator for the workforce. The power of a vision comes truly into play only when the employees themselves have had some part in its creation.

Utilize the power of diversity. Experiments at the University of Michigan found that, when challenged with a difficult problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worse than groups whose members had varying levels of skill and knowledge. The reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of diverse thinking. Group members who think alike or are trained in similar disciplines with similar bases of knowledge run the risk of becoming insular in their ideas. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.

Help people develop trusting relationships. Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability and integrity of another party. It is also the glue that holds together any group. Since the outcome of any collaborative effort is dependent upon trusting relationships among participants, not allowing time for this to develop can be a costly mistake. But all too often, in the rush to get started on a project, team leaders put people together and tell them to “get to work.” You’ll get better results if your give your group time (upfront) to get to know one another, to develop a common understanding about the project, to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to build personal ties.

Watch your body language. To show that you are receptive to other people’s ideas, uncross your arms and legs. Place your feet flat on the floor and use open palm gestures (which is a body language display inviting others into the conversation). If you want people to give you their ideas, don’t multi-task while they do. Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on those who are speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward is another nonverbal way to show you’re engaged and paying attention, as is head tilting. (The head tilt is a universal gesture of giving the other person an ear.) To encourage team members to expand on their comments, nod your head using clusters of three nods at regular intervals.

Today’s organizations exist in an increasingly complex and ever-shifting ocean of change. As a result, leaders need to rely more than ever on the intelligence and resourcefulness of their staff. Collaboration is not a “interesting” leadership philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival and success.


5 Body Language Hacks that Make You Look Like a LeaderAbout the Author: I offer keynote speeches, webinars, and one-on-one coaching sessions. For more information, please email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com or phone: 1-510-526-1727. My website is: https://carolkinseygoman.com/