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Collaborative Leadership – why is collaborative leadership so important?

Posted by on October 8, 2014

Collaborative Leadership – why is collaborative leadership so important?

12 Collaborative LCollaborative Leadershipeadership Reasons Why Leaders Need to Improve on the Way We Work.

I am passionate about the way leaders behave within the workplace and how leaders can collaborate together for skills development and ultimately long term benefits in the workplace.
Most of my time and work is spent with leaders, either heads of departments, directors, MD’s and SME’s. In the world of procurement and supply chain words like “collaboration”, “supplier relationship management” and “strategic partnerships” are bounced around with new ideas, ways of working and processes which allow key objectives and deliverables to come to fruition and evolve over time.
Interesting to note that behind the scenes of these words I’ve just listed are behaviours such as openness, integrity, a willingness to share ideas, resources and time for the greater good of both organisations. And of course, in the commercial world there’ll be a host of key performance indicators (KPI’s) and processes to ensure the partnership stays on track!
Have you ever heard of that saying “where there’s people, there’s problems”? And I think until we as leaders start to trust, support and believe in the core principles of collaborative behaviours and approaches we will not accelerate our business and people to places where we want them to go.
As collaborative leaders we need to seek ways to join forces with the resources that are readily available to us – through our people. And our people do not have to be direct reports! Our people are those around us, within our networks, our suppliers, our prospects…the list is endless.
I worked with a PLC company who operated a matrix-management system. It was complicated (for me anyway) at times confusing and opened up a huge can of worms for operating silos, individual rising up of teams versus “the rest” and so the circle continued. What were so needed here was a good dose of getting bums on seats, heads round the table and a huge glug of honesty which allowed freedom of opinion, breaking down silos and creating new relationships.
I’ve been reading Tony Lendrum’s “Practitioners Guide to Strategic Partnerships & Alliances, 4th Edition”
It’s about the 10th time I’ve scanned or read it in full and each time I take something absolutely valuable away from it in terms of collaborative leadership.
Whilst this book is predominately aimed at commercial strategy and strategic partnerships (procurement in particular) there are so many key strands of behavioural aspects which represent the very core of collaborative leadership. And these key areas identified are those which I work with on a daily basis. Of course my role as coach is to raise awareness, encourage self-evaluation and accountability for behavioural change.


I think collaborative leadership is the basis in which relationships are developed, managed and improved upon. It is about having the ability to let go of our self-gratification, self-protective layers and our many insecurities which we use to wrap ourselves from in the “corporate red tape” which some of us have allowed over the years.

Here’s a quote I found from some University in America linked to social-psychological behaviours around collaborative leadership:
Collaborative leaders ably facilitate the involvement of two or more people in a group working toward a shared outcome in a manner that reflects collective ownership, authorship, use, or responsibility.
Not rocket science is it?
Of course you know as well as I do, to make partnerships work, you need a simple yet sustainable process that is flexible enough to allow creativity and imagination and yet provides the structure for measurement and reproducibility. This quote really sums up the whole ethos of collaborative leadership for me. The ability to for two or more people to work together for the shared outcomes with collective ownership!
How is it then that we experience so much ineffective communication in the working environment today?
From Tony Lendrums’ book he lists 12 key motivators as:

• Add value
• Reduce costs
• Improve communication
• Develop trust
• Resolve conflicts
• Remove hidden agendas
• Empower people
• Develop leadership
• Gain commitment
• Develop Ownership
• Break down department barriers
• Remove fear

It is from these motivators that innovation, creativity and the freedom and ability to think and act are born. In terms of cause and effect, the motivators are the cause and the outcomes are the effect. With collaborative leadership or partnership relationships the motivators has everything to do with overall well-being of the organisations involved. I have personally witnessed the positive and negative impact of each of the 12 motivators physically and emotionally and from a bottom-line perspective.

So taking each of the 12 Collaborative Leadership strands:

1. Add value – and I extend this by adding “feeling valued”. It is about our contribution and our willingness to take others’ viewpoints that allows collaborative leadership to develop and grow. Adding value in the commercial context is also known as “VfM” – value for money. It is about having multi-skilled individuals at different levels in teams to all contribute in a meaningful way. Of course when we appreciate the value of others’ skills we then start to draw on short & long term efficiencies with better standards.
2. Reduce Costs – here Tony Lendrum refers to cost out in a commercial sense. What about the on-cost to business where under-performing teams and unhelpful behaviours which link to operating silo’s, “terrorists” (a behavioural description) and blockers come into play? Far too much time in my opinion in business is spent playing politics. Far too much time is wasted with our inabilities to feedback in productive and learning way. And equally, our inabilities to accept feedback to improve and learn!
3. Improve Communications: I only have a few paragraphs available here and not a whole day for a workshop! Quite simply we as human beings in business need to relate more effectively with each other. Key emphasis I put on the word “relate”. It means build better relationships! We need to have a clearer understanding of what individuals, groups or teams do and participate (take action) in activities which will add value to the business. Sharing information in an open, honest, accurate and timely manner allows ease and freedom of information to flow. It also opens up dialogue and inclusion for people to work better together.

Communication for me is top of the agenda for brilliant collaborative leadership to excel! It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes – verbal, non-verbal, face-to-face, skype, email and so on. Great leaders communicate freely with a confidence & belief in what and how they are doing it. They do not play political games neither do they have any intention of building mini-empires which causes destruction harm to most.

4 Develop Trust: Leaders collaboratively working together will develop trust with the knowledge that joint objectives will give us the returns that we all want. Easy said than done for a lot of business! It is about having confidence, respect and getting to know people during our relationship build. Developing trust requires a firm belief whether individuals or groups that they will act as they say they will. Let’s face it; we only can ever give our word to others. Our words verbally commit our actions. Our action and “doing” builds the pillar of trust we need in business today.

5 Resolve Conflicts: how does conflict come about in the workplace? It is always shaped around mis-understandings with communications, where behaviours has crossed our values/beliefs boundaries and where we are emotionally stirred by our feeling of “lacking in something” That something can be where we feel undervalued, threatened or absolutely disagree with something/someone/action/process. Our ability as a leader to resolve conflicts in the context of business relationships or relationships with our people is crucial to drive change. Far too often conflicts are swept under the carpet and trodden on every now and again. Conflicts allow an uprising of silos where other’s get involved with “opinions as fact” Far too many people get caught in the cross-fire if it is not nipped in the bud. Great collaborative leaders bring honesty, openness and strong facilitative skills with a vision, will and want to resolve conflict.

6. Remove Hidden Agendas: what is your experience of hidden agendas? In Tony Lendrums’ book “Practitioners Guide to Strategic Partnerships” he talks about these as being issues, views, opinions or intentions that individuals or groups (for best reasons known to them) and which differ from their publicly held views or statements. These hidden issues are the real cause of why people speak and act the way they do. Tony Lendrum continues, unfortunately hidden agendas can exist at any level in the organisation. Seek them out and remove them. They are destructive and debilitating.

I think Tony Lendrum hits the nail on the head with his summary and actions needed for hidden agendas. I also believe it is crucial for collaborative leaders to shape and share the vision, our desired outcomes and how we expect our people & teams to behave for the organisation to accelerate at the pace which is desired. Whether it is commercial partnerships or internal dynamics the principles are the same. The same because what I am describing here are behaviours. Collaborative leaders behave in way which is all-inclusive, upfront, open, engaging, nurture relationships and demonstrate edge.

7. Empower People: Lendrum describes this as broadening people’s responsibilities & accountabilities, allowing people to make more of their own decisions. Encourage calculated and educated risk taking. Applaud “perceived failure” when genuine creativity and innovation have been implemented but have been unsuccessful due to factors beyond their control. Reward success when the boundaries have been pushed back or forward!

For me empowerment in the collaborative leadership context builds trust. It builds confidence in our belief that our people are capable. Of course there will be elements of skills development where needed. The very nature of coaching is raising awareness for self-accountability and responsibility. And I am sure you have noticed the huge productivity difference from individuals when they truly feel empowered and are effective contributors. As collaborative leaders we need to seek out many more opportunities daily to work closer with our peers and teams. The more we practise empowering more people the more powerful we are as a collective team.

8. Develop Leadership: Lendrum using the term “Provide Leadership” in his list of 12 motivators, I prefer to call it “develop leadership” As collaborate leaders we can set the standards for the way we act, engage, communicate and share the vision for the future. Collaborative leaders will set fine examples of great communication, be super-coaches and have the confidence in their people to see things through.
Lendrum quotes Colin Powell in his text and I love this saying too: “Leaderships is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible”

9. Gain Commitment: Working collaboratively requires extra effort; focus and determination to gather momentum and focus ensuring all involved are committed to the vision and the desired outcomes. I have worked with many collaborative teams and one of the key themes that stick out for me like a sore thumb is ownership. Without keeping to our word, completing the action and supporting others with the collaborative team we are dead ducks in the water! Sounds sound simple doesn’t it? Lack of ownership & participation in the vision/organisations desired outcomes results in breakdown within the team, allows room for criticism and slows the flow of progress down.

For me gaining commitment is up there with communication! As a collaborative leader working each-other, take the time to understand what your preferences are playing to key strengths all of the time.

10. Develop Ownership: Lendrum says developing ownership begins with giving employees recognition for successful outcomes and the personal commitments involved in achieving them. It is about people and teams successfully handling responsibilities, tasks and accountabilities as if they were their own design or creation. This will also involve strong elements of leadership and empowerment.

As a collaborative leader you will have a real skill in developing ownership amongst your peers. It is about your influence and ability to see where others’ sense of purpose lies.
You will demonstrate ownership yourself by the way you lead with your sleeves rolled up ready for action. You will encourage ownership by giving feedback to those who you recognise do it very well and those you recognise who don’t.

11. Breakdown Departmental Barriers: Similar to hidden agenda, barriers are crippling to people who want to make a difference to change and the way we do things around here! If we’re agreeing that collaborative leadership is about an all-inclusive approach, then we must take a bulldozer to smash down each and every barrier that exists! Lendrum shares how departmental barriers can be real, perceived, physical or non-physical and can be historical, cultural, personal, technological or organisational.

Again (similar to hidden agendas) barriers are symptoms of our learned behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. It is through taking off the blinkers, allowing our eyes and head to move noticing the strength of individual and collaborative effectiveness that allows us to be free of these. How do we break the barriers? What do we do to keep them down? Collaborative leadership is all about inclusion, trust, open book, honesty, integrity, challenge, feedback and learning. It is about full steam and focus on the vision of the organisation and its people. Quite frankly, if any leaders cannot buy into sensibility of this approach and behaviours then they should go and do something different by themselves!

12. Remove Fear: Doctor Edwards Deming (Out of Crisis): “Fear takes a horrible toll. Fear is all around, robbing people of their pride, hurting them, and robbing people of a chance to contribute to the company. Replace fear with freedom and security”
John McConnell (book, Safer than a Known Way) says: “fear is negative and destructive. It destroys moral and teamwork. It corrupts data; it damages quality and this productivity. I do not believe any management theory can work in a company driven by fear, let alone a theory that require fundamental change in attitudes and methods”

Fear comes in many guises from asking questions, making mistakes, challenging the “status quo”, challenging the appraisal system, challenging ideas of change and so many more things that I have not listed here. Fear destroys morale. It destroys teamwork. Fear also destroys individual’s confidence, ability to articulate feelings and share opinions. It can be debilitating.

Often leaders are fearful of giving and receiving feedback because of the perceived consequences which may be attached to it.
Most of not all of my work is centred on feedback and feed-forward. It is a word which is bounced around in business and given, received and acted upon in a collaborative way – allows quite simply magic to happen with people working together.
Fear starts to peel away, honesty, confidence and skills start to shine through. Feedback & feed forward must be the biggest tool in any collaborative leader’s toolkit!

The more we understand that feedback is as much as about us (the giver) as it is to the person who is receiving it – then we create a whole new space and solid ground for people who are willing to work together for the shared vision.


The Strategic Partnering Handbook by Tony Lendrum is quoted and adapted in part of this extract.
Hayley Phipps is a Corporate Executive Coach & Cognitive Behavioural Coach specialising in collaborative leadership and high performing teams.
Our next management development workshop 11/12th November, Glasgow and shall cover many aspects of our real experiences of leaders and how we can relate to these behaviours.

Contact us: 0843 2891639 to find out more about our work or any of our open programmes.

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