The keys to collaborative leadership: empathy, netarchy, influence and adaptation.

In a complex and rapidly changing world, the answers must necessarily be collective. The solutions will not be the result of a plan envisaged by a few, but will emerge from the courageous action of many people at all levels of the organization, who have been able to adapt and change their mental models to face the new reality.

Creating value in the Age of Collaboration is a transformative journey, not an isolated project. Leaders who take the time to encourage employee participation in decision-making and a collaborative culture that enables collective intelligence will empower their organizations with the speed, adaptability, productivity, and innovation required to grow and thrive in a world of accelerating change. And on this journey, they will discover that it is worth the investment, as the collaboration is equally powerful in its ability to support business goals as to frustrate them.

A different leadership

Unlike formal leadership, in which authority derives from our position, collaborative leadership is exercised from our personal power and credibility. It does not originate, therefore, in the position we occupy, but in our proactive action as leaders, based on our passion and constancy, our self-confidence and our ability to decide. This is the essence of collaborative leadership.

But beware, collaborative leadership is not a panacea, nor is it free. Collaboration requires interaction, has its costs of coordination, and often requires leadership beyond the boundaries of our own organization. Even some may argue that collaboration can undermine a lot of energy, and therefore be exhausting for some people. Constant change is also exhausting, and as collaborative leaders we need to connect with our passions to find the energy we need to be a source of inspiration for our peers.

Leadership without frontiers

A good collaborative leader starts from the premise that his domain of action does not stop at the border of the organization. In a global, fast-changing world the boundaries of organization often become blurred, and both authority and personal responsibility do not stop at the organizational boundary. New business models are increasingly based on informal networking, mass collaboration, and production ecosystems that cross organizational boundaries. Therefore, leadership has to go beyond organizational boundaries, and persuading others to build value in community is an essential part of any effective collaboration.

Four key competencies

These key competencies can help you introduce the seed of Collaborative Leadership into your organization:

Empathy. A good collaborative leader needs to feel what is happening to peers. Often the signals they are sending are very weak and encoded. Therefore, it is important to listen with an open mind and without prejudice, pay attention and show interest in what they are telling us. Collaboration requires a climate of trust that we have to build based on a sincere concern for people. As collaborative leaders we must be able to get under the skin of others and respond quickly to their needs and uncertainties. Empathy is what allows us to recognize and understand the emotions of others, their motivations, the reasons for their behavior or their preferences in decision making. And it is a key emotional competence to manage the inevitable conflicts, losses, and confusion associated with change, so that disruptions are productive rather than destructive to people and organization.

Netarchy. Every day it is more evident that we need new organizational models for the coordination of collective efforts. The current hierarchical structures are failing in their attempts to adjust to a new, more global, complex and uncertain reality. While the hierarchy has given scalability to our organizations, its cost has been high in terms of initiative, creativity and commitment of people. As leaders we must be able to accept the hierarchy-netarchy duality and be able to operate in collaborative networks and become the drivers of netarchy as the natural structure for innovation. If we really want to accelerate the strategy and the necessary digital transformation, we must equip our companies with a dual structure capable of running day-to-day and at the same time exploring new opportunities and avoiding threats.

Influence. This new type of leadership is exercised on the basis of influence, authenticity, personal credibility and added value that the leader brings to the community, and has nothing to do with the ability to accumulate power. Collaboration requires authentic leaders, people with the power to energize and broaden the community rather than handle it from above, which requires a great capacity for personal credibility to connect with the collective intelligence of the organization, to mobilize and coordinate human efforts. A good collaborative leader is one who is able to influence and convince his peers, without falling into the trap of becoming a manipulator.

Adaptation. Change and change management are adaptive challenges in which people in the organization are both part of the problem and part of the solution. There are no magic answers, but questions that can lead us in the right direction. As leaders we must be able to select what we want to maintain and preserve, what is expendable and what we must discard, and what are the new capabilities we must create to face the future successfully. It is about mobilizing others – both outside and within our area of responsibility – to achieve understanding and agreement on what needs to be done and how to do it, facilitating individual and collective adaptation efforts and developing new skills we requiere to adapt to the new circumstances.