Collaborative leaders: Everything you need to know

October 8, 2021



Collaborative leadership is becoming imperative in the 4th industrial revolution and collaborative leaders are transforming their organisations in exceptional ways.

Research shows that collaborative leadership results in high employee engagement, high productivity, and reduced turnover. Characteristics of collaborative leaders include the ability to build relationships, respect for diverse opinions, reduced ego, and willingness to give up power.

To practice collaborative leadership, managers should open lines of communication, be good listeners and demolish silos within the organisation.

The advent of the information age and the subsequent 4th Industrial revolution challenged the established management and leadership techniques of the 20th century.

Methods that are used to work and producing excellent results are being rendered obsolete. In most cases, circumstances are compelling leaders to abandon and alter the top-down hierarchical methods of leadership and embracing collaborative methods.

The collaborative leadership style is about bringing different people together and creating an environment that fosters cooperation.

Under this style, problem-solving and strategy formulation is not a preserve of the few corporate chiefs, but rather an all-inclusive process. Managers, executives, and staff members are all brought together to deliberate on issues.

What is collaborative leadership?

Collaborative leaders create an environment that allows free flow of information as opposed to the traditional top-down model, which is characterised by information asymmetries.

Free flow of information breeds cooperation, spurs innovation, and enables quick response to the situations and markets.

Through the empowerment of everyone, people tend to take responsibility for their shared projects/work.

Unlike a scenario where employees work under orders and goals from the top, collaborative style places everyone on the same page and engenders a sense of ownership.

Decisions are not made out of whims or ‘mighty intelligence of the leader’ but rather after factoring in diverse opinions and ideas of the people involved.

Studies show that people down the line tend to understand the organisation/markets better than people at the top. For example, a salesperson in the field has more market intelligence and knowledge than the CMO in the air condition office.

Capturing the opinions and ideas of everyone produces excellent synergies and enriched decisions. In this way, collaborative leadership enables the organisation to view problems and situations from different perspectives, with inclusive solutions being the outcome. Employee buy-in is assured under this style, as well as other positive indications like employee wellness, motivation, and engagement.

Why collaborative leadership style?

Collaborative leadership style

●       Employee engagement

One of the most significant difficulties that CEOs face is employee disengagement.

One aspect of collaborative leadership is that you must be a member of the team rather than leading from above. As a result of this approach, your employees are more likely to trust you. Because employees have a sense of shared purpose, this enhances employee engagement and decreases possible power clashes in your organisation.

●       Boosting productivity

People in a team put in more effort when the leader is in the game with them, rather than just delivering directions from the sidelines.

When your team sees you in the trenches with them, it increases their allegiance to you as a leader. They’ll go above and beyond to assist you in achieving your objectives. As a result, your company’s production rises, and your firm expands.

●       Reduction in turnover

Collaborative leadership is also important since it helps to reduce staff turnover. Reducing employee turnover is critical, as studies show that replacing an employee can cost anywhere from six to nine months of their salary.

Collaborative leadership can assist you in accomplishing this goal.

Employee happiness rises when a leader values his subordinates and supports a variety. As a result, you’ll be able to keep more staff and cut down on churn.

As you can see, if you want to take your company to the next level, you’ll need to develop collaborative leadership qualities.

How to practice collaborative leadership

Collaborative leadership

Organisational change is never simple, but with a clear sense of purpose and your team’s support, you’ll be well on your way to a more collaborative working environment. Here’s how to get going.

●       Sense of purpose

You need a clear vision to guide people toward a goal, and you need to convey it clearly throughout the business. Workplaces are used to send out distinct messages to different groups of individuals. As a result, stakeholders and graphic designers had different versions of the story, and the accounting team had still another version. When it comes to collaborative leadership, start where you intend to go and convey your vision to everyone, from senior management to the newest intern.

●       Set Goals

This one may appear self-evident. However, you’d be amazed how many employees believe they are misinformed about the company’s objectives. It is your responsibility as a leader to develop clear and actionable goals for your team and to convey them to them. Employees must understand how their activities affect and contribute to the broader business, regardless of whatever department they work in.

●       Be a good listener

When you’re speaking with your staff, whether in a group gathering or one-on-one, give them your undivided attention. Limit distractions: don’t pick up the phone or check your emails, and don’t let them stop your work. This also applies to remote meetings: don’t start browsing through unrelated windows during video conversations.

Finally, if your employees believe you aren’t totally present, they may be hesitant to voice distinctive or controversial viewpoints—which may be exactly what you need to hear.

●       Encourage others to speak up

Extroverts frequently dominate meetings. It is your responsibility to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak in order to display collaboration. Ask around, foster healthy debate, and allow the greatest idea to triumph.

●       Silos should be avoided

Departments expand in tandem with organisations. Workers at larger corporations frequently remark things like “I have no idea what they do in”. So it’s better to tackle this problem from the start: encourage staff to collaborate as much as possible and keep them informed about what others are doing. Employees will feel more informed, and perspectives on many parts of the business will flow across the organisation.

●       Failures can be turned into learning opportunities

The blame game may create a toxic environment in any size organisation. Don’t waste time assigning blame or making your personnel the scapegoat if something doesn’t work. Instead, try to have a conversation about what happened and why it happened. Because collaborative leadership stresses responsibility across the organisation, it is everyone’s responsibility to learn from and grow on failure. Although the phrase “every failure is an opportunity” may be overused, it is nonetheless accurate.

Characteristics of collaborative leaders

●       Abhors Micromanagement

A collaborative leader recognizes that he or she cannot have complete control over all aspects of the organisation. While good training is necessary to guarantee that personnel follows protocols, it is impossible to force them to perform what they are intended to do.

Instead, great leaders encourage and motivate their staff to attain their objectives. Because good leaders don’t micromanage their teams, they succeed. Leaders are typically aware that this management approach has the exact opposite effect that is required for corporate success.

●       Has a diverse set of abilities and skills

A collaborative leader must possess abilities and talents that can be applied across a variety of business units and scenarios. These tasks include managing client connections, dealing with diverse stakeholders, strategic planning, in-depth analysis, and motivating employees to fulfill performance goals.

●       Ability to build relationships

The goal of collaborative leadership is to break down communication barriers so that departments, managers, and customers can work together more effectively. To achieve the best results, a smart leader knows how to develop trust and minimise conflict among team members.

It’s not enough to rely on weekly reports or statistics; each employee must be understood individually. Managing cross-functional teams necessitates interpersonal relationship skills and a certain degree of influence.

●       Encourages the taking of risks

Good leaders want their employees to achieve more than their stated objectives and develop in their careers. They cultivate a culture that prioritises job stability and rewards hard work, encouraging people to explore new ideas and take risks. Morale improves as a result of sharing the greatest ideas and leveraging each individual’s strengths. Throughout the corporation, there is also more creativity and business growth.

●       Empathy Sense Increased

A collaborative leader understands the diverse needs and objectives for each functional area since he or she engages with multiple units across a company. This is especially true when it comes to critical goals, cultural obstacles, and other communication impediments that might stifle productivity.

●       Control is relinquished

A smart leader recognises that no one has complete control over any given situation. Collaborative leaders create an environment where team members’ comfort and confidence can grow by focusing on inspiring them to work well rather than controlling them with an iron grasp.

●       Respects differences

According to a study conducted at the University of Michigan, groups made up of members with varying degrees of knowledge and abilities did even better at completing a tough task than homogeneous teams made up of people with higher objective ability. When you think about it, it makes sense: While homogeneous–even highly skilled–teams frequently risk establishing an echo chamber that promotes the status quo, diversity compels group members to examine opinions other than their own. True collaborators bring people together to form varied teams that operate well together.

An example of a collaborative leader – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Cabinet

When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1860, the country was bitterly divided over the issue of slavery. On the eve of his inauguration, the country was on the brink of a civil war, pitting the anti-slavery northern states and the pro-slavery southern states. Two key facts highlight how Abe Lincoln epitomizes collaborative leadership.

Firstly, even though Lincoln was opposed did not immediately change the laws pertaining to slavery but rather worked on building consensus against the slavery institution.

This is different from authoritarian leaders who would have imposed their will. In the true form of collaborative leaders, President Lincoln was driven by a goal and clarity of vision, hence he worked to ensure that the majority was on board.

Secondly, Doris Keens’ team of rivals shows how Lincoln won the respect of the cabinet that underrated him and went on to collaborate with it in the execution and winning of the civil war.

Men like Edward Bates, Henry Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edwin Stanton, were more accomplished than Lincoln who happened to be a second-rate lawyer from Illinois.

Through impeccable collaborative leadership skills, Lincoln gained the trust and respect of these men and together they accomplished a lot. Decisions were made after extensive consultations, deliberations, and discussions. On the day of his assassination, all these men bore witness to his greatness.

Here are the characteristics that were exhibited by Lincoln:

  • Clarity of purpose and vision
  • Seeking a win-win situation
  • Reduced ego
  • Consensus building
  • Building relationships and
  • Respect for diversity and different opinions

The 21st-century business climate seems to be favoring a more and more collaborative leadership style.

The complexion of today’s workplace is dominated by tools and conditions that foster collaboration rather than other forms of leadership.

A collaborative leader remains in charge but loosens the rein which in turn sparks positive changes like innovation, cooperation, and employee engagement.

Without key characteristics like the ability to listen and accepting diverse thoughts, it’s impossible to practice collaborative leadership.

This whitepaper was written by Nicholas Mushayi a consultant at the Industrial Psychology Consultants, a management and human resources consulting company. He can be contacted on email: or mobile number  0777914345

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