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The 4 Keys to Becoming a Collaborative Leader


Yesterday's "command-and-control" CEO would stand little chance leading a company in today's hyper-connected, intensely cooperative environment. The buzz is around the rise of the "collaborative leader," a person who is thick with emotional intelligence, connected to diverse networks, and leads by authority granted by those who follow her rather than by position on an org chart.

Obviously this isn't your father's CEO -- entirely new tools and techniques are needed by those who aspire to be a collaborative leader, according to business management gurus Herminia Ibarra and Morten T. Hansen.

Writing in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review, the authors identify four necessary skills for this new breed of manager to master. They must:

  1. Connect people and ideas outside the organization to those inside it. Leaders should play the role of "global connector," piling up frequent-flier models to meet with employees, customers, thought leaders and peers from other industries, and then share that wisdom with the organization. "To connect their organizations to the wider world, collaborative leaders develop contacts not only in the typical areas -- local clubs, industry associations, and customer and supplier relations -- but beyond them," write Ibarra and Hansen.
  2. Leverage diverse talent. A continuing deluge of research is piling up that shows teams with members from diverse backgrounds can be smarter than homogenous ones. But it takes special leadership talent to identify and then meld together a group with members of different races, genders, cultures and ages.
  3. Model collaborative behavior at the top. A culture of collaboration starts at the top. "Depoliticizing senior management so that executives are rewarded for collaborating rather than promoting their individual agendas is an absolute essential," according to the authors.
  4. Keep teams from becoming mired in debate. The downside of a collaborative culture is a tendency toward too many meetings with too few decisions. One key is for leaders to assign clear decision rights and responsibilities "so that at the appropriate point someone can end the discussion and make a final call."
The article identified a handful of CEOs who fit this bill, a group including Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Akamai Technologies president David Kenny, and GE's chief marketing officer, Beth Comstock.

"Leaders today must be able to harness ideas, people and resources from across boundaries of all kinds," according to Ibarra and Hansen. "That requires reinventing their talent strategies and building strong connections both inside and outside their organizations.

Are you a collaborative leader? Is there value in being one?

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(Image by Flickr user jayfreshuk, CC 2.0)