Are You A Collaborative Leader?

Are You A Collaborative Leader?

Most executives agree that collaboration is more important than ever in today's turbulent business environment. In fact, a company's very survival may depend on how well it can combine the potential of its people and the quality of the information they possess with their ability -- and willingness -- to share that knowledge throughout the organization. Deloitte’s recent Future of Work research find 65 percent of the C-Level executives surveyed have a strategic objective to transform their organization’s culture with a focus on connectivity, communication, and collaboration.

But collaboration doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes strategic leadership. Whether you are an executive, team leader, or first-line supervisor in an organization looking to build a more collaborative culture, the requirements for your job have changed.

The most effective leaders have four collaborative behaviors in common. How do you compare?

1) Do You Build Relationships of Trust?

A collaborative team isn’t a group of people working together. It’s a group of people working together who trust each other. Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability, integrity and honesty of another party. It is the expectation that the faith one places in someone else will be honored. It is also the glue that holds together any group, and it is the foundation of true collaboration. Without trust, a team loses its emotional ballast. In an environment of suspicion, people withhold information, hide behind psychological walls, and withdraw from participation.

In an atmosphere of high trust, where communication is candid and transparent, goals are co-created, setbacks are analyzed for the purpose of learning (not blaming), and successes are celebrated and shared, people respond by taking ownership, becoming even more engaged and forthcoming. And nothing builds trust faster in a leadership team (or ay team, for that matter) than getting to know one another as individuals. When you hold offsite retreats or workplace events, be sure to create opportunities for social time to develop or deepen personal relationships. Reinforcing these relationships at the beginning of any new initiative will also increase effectiveness throughout the process.

2) Do You Send Nonverbal Signals of Inclusion?

There are two sets of body language cues that people look for in leaders. One set projects warmth and caring and the other signals power and status. Both are necessary for leaders today but, in your role as Chief Influencer, the “warmer side” of nonverbal communication (which has been undervalued and underutilized by leaders more concerned with projecting strength, status, and authority), becomes central to creating the most collaborative workforce relationships.

The body language of inclusion and warmth includes positive eye contact, genuine smiles, and open postures in which legs are uncrossed, and arms are held away from your body, with palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table.

Mirroring is another nonverbal sign of warmth. You may not realize it, but when you are dealing with people you like or agree with, you’ll automatically begin to match their stance, arm positions and facial expressions. It’s a way of signaling that you are connected and engaged.

Facing people directly when they’re talking is also crucial. It shows that you are totally focused on them. Even rotating your shoulders a quarter turn away signals a lack of interest and makes the other person feel as if their opinions are being discounted. Of course, giving others your complete attention when they are speaking is one of the warmest, most inclusive signals you can send.

3) Are you Empathetic?

Development Dimensions International has studied leadership for 46 years. In their latest research with over 15,000 leaders from more than 300 organizations across 20 industries in 18 countries, DDI looked at leaders’ conversational skills that had the highest impact on overall performance. At the very top of the list was empathy – specifically, the ability to listen and respond empathetically.

A further discovery in the DDI report was that only four out of ten leaders in their global study were proficient or strong in empathy. As a leader, if you already rank high in empathy, you gain a genuine professional advantage. If not, empathetic listening is a skill worth developing.

4) Do you Create an Environment of Psychological Safety?

Human beings have two primitive instincts that guide our willingness to collaborate – or not - and they are triggered under very different circumstance.

The instinct to hoard can be traced back to early humans hoarding vital supplies, like food, out of fear of not having enoughThe more they put away, the safer they felt. Still today whenever we feel fearful, distrustful or insecure, the “hoarding instinct” kicks into high gear, urging us to hold on tightly to whatever we possess – including knowledge. When insights and opinions are ridiculed, criticized or ignored, people feel threatened – and they typically react by declining to contribute further.

On the other hand, humans are also a learning, teaching, knowledge-sharing species. According to evolutionary psychologists, this trait is also hard-wired, linking back to when human first started gathering in clans. Leaders trigger the “sharing instinct” when they create psychologically safe workplace environments in which people feel secure, valued, and trusted.

It is noteworthy to add that in the age of digital transformation, even high-tech companies need soft-skilled talent. In researching what makes teams successful, Google's "Project Aristotle" found that psychological safety is key. Google’s most effective teams also exhibited "social sensitivity,” meaning that members spoke about equally (usually “short and sweet”) and were able to pick up on each other’s interpersonal cues, including body language.

Today’s corporation exists in an increasingly complex and ever-shifting ocean of change. As a result, collaboration is not a “nice to have” organizational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival. As a result, leaders of collaboration (at all management levels) may need to redefine their roles and update their skills.

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  • Christopher Walton

    One of the best articles I've come across!!!

  • Mark Reed

    Unique and valuable post

  • Rick Vaughan

    Exactly what I needed to know

  • Peter Brisland

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Leadership Expert

Carol is an international keynote speaker at conferences, business organizations, government agencies, and universities. She addresses a variety of leadership issues, but specializes in helping leaders build their impact and influence skills for fostering collaboration, building trust, and projecting that illusive quality called "leadership presence." She is the author of "STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence." and the creator of LinkedIn Learning's video course, "Body Language for Leaders." Carol completed her doctorate in the United States. She can be reached at

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