On the surface, it would seem that solitary leadership has served the corporate culture well since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In fact, looking back over the past century you could probably say that in a world of predominately manufacturing, taking a lone approach to leadership worked really well. It allowed executives to understand the market and make quick decisions based on information that wasn’t perceived to be important to employees at the bottom of the org chart.
However over the past few decades, and especially now in the face of global trade, we find ourselves amidst the information age – the digital era – where newer approaches to leadership have started to take form; and thankfully take hold. No longer are we standing on the factory floor making one widget for one purpose. Nor are we sitting around a boardroom table afraid to speak up, waiting for our managers to decide what we should do. Increasingly, we are working and thinking as teams, multi-tasking and lending our talents where they make the most sense and add the most value – even if they take us outside the borders of our job descriptions. And this newer style of working, most definitely requires a newer style of leadership.
Thankfully, the collaborative leader we’ve chosen to be, is quickly becoming the type of leader everyone aspires to be. For some of us it’s in our DNA. For others, we need to keep working on it.
We all know that leading collaboratively can sometime slow things down, or complicate what we might think to be simple decisions. Yet we also know that it’s well-worth the effort, and that our decisions are better ones as a result of involving others who are impacted, and we get stronger buy-in. But when the pressure is on and we think for a fleeting moment that it might be easy to just go-it-alone, let’s remind ourselves why we do it, and look for signs that we might be slipping back to the industrial ages! Here are five tell-tale differences:
Solitary Leaders: Solitary leaders tend to approach power as a single point of authority, believing that their power is a derivative from their position of authority. Often this old school mentality bestows power based purely on tenure and status. So the longer you stay with your organization, the farther up the ladder you progress, the greater your power.
Collaborative Leaders: Collaborative leaders recognize that power is greatest in a collective team. That you don’t give up power, but rather become more powerful. By encouraging equal participation across all levels, the best solutions simply comes from the best ideas – which ever corner of the room they come from – taking a team approach to problem solving.
Solitary Leaders: Maintaining ownership of information is a hallmark of old-school leaders. From a power perspective, information is power. Releasing information on a “need to know” basis allows traditional leaders to maintain authority and control.
Collaborative Leaders: Open information sharing is the cornerstone of collaborative leadership. Getting everyone on the same page requires everyone to have access to the same information. Creative approaches to problem solving is significantly strengthened by sharing information at the corporate level, and encouraging it at the cross-departmental levels.
3. Idea Generation
Solitary Leaders: These leaders may be open to suggestions and ideas from their team, but more often decisions come from the top. In fact, with key pieces of business information often withheld, team members missing this context would be hard-pressed to generate strategic thoughts and ideas even if they wanted to.
Collaborative Leaders: The beauty of collaboration is that it gives everyone on the team a voice. And as the old saying goes two heads – or better yet, a whole room full – ultimately leads to better ideas, solutions and decisions. Team members feel empowered to contribute their thoughts and ideas, because their leaders are genuinely open to it and strongly encourage cross-pollination.
4. Resolving Issues
Solitary Leaders: Solitary leaders often dealt with issues on an individual basis with no regard to the root cause of the problem. This means that rather than senior management being able to focus their energy on creating systemic, beneficial change that could prevent issues from arising in the future, they are consumed by fighting fires in the now.
Collaborative Leaders: The basis of collaborative leadership is trust and delegation. Because team members are given more responsibility for their work, leaders are often more involved in the process. Collaborative leaders look for the root cause of conflict as it arises, and address solutions quickly to keep work moving forward.
5. Rules, Roles and Responsibilities
Solitary Leadership: Organizations with old-school cultures tend to rely on a series of rules, regulations and a hierarchy that forces team leads to adhere to specific roles and responsibilities for both themselves and their teams. This can grossly limit the creative process and result in individuals working in silos, without the benefit of group ideation or perspective.
Collaborative Leaders: In a collaborative environment teams are encouraged to work together and cross-functionally. Information, resources, knowledge, time and effort are shared. This allows roles and responsibilities to evolve and fluctuate based on the greater good.
Collaboration is at the heart of our work at Thoughtexchange. But we don’t all need to develop collaborative software and processes for a living, to enjoy the benefits of developing a collaborative culture. In fact, it’s not limited to work environments either. Collaboration can strengthen relationships outside the office too. It can be equally as effective in your home, on the field, and in our schools.
Next time you’re under the gun to make a decision that might tempt you to go solo, remember all the times you came out with better solutions and stronger ideas being a collaborative leader, partner, parent, coach and teacher!