Collaborative Leadership From A to Z

Collaborative Leadership From A to Z

Collaboration has become an essential ingredient for organizational survival and individual success. As organizations move toward more collaborative cultures, a new leadership model is emerging – one that replaces command and control with trust and inclusion. The leader’s role is to encourage team members to see themselves as valued contributors, to help them build their knowledge base, expand their personal networks, and to motivate them to offer their ideas and perspectives in service of a common goal. 

Here are my leadership tips, from A to Z, for creating an environment in which people choose to participate and contribute:

Show APPRECIATION. Collaboration is a discretionary effort. You can’t order people to contribute and care. But when they do, you can thank them.

Watch your BODY LANGUAGE. If leaders want to be perceived as credible and collaborative, they need to make sure that their verbal messages are supported (not sabotaged) by their nonverbal signals.  

Involve your CUSTOMER. When you involve external and internal customers in your collaborative process, they have an even bigger investment in your team's success.

Value DIVERSITY. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.

ELIMINATE the barriers to a free flow of ideas. When people are free to ask "dumb" questions, challenge the status quo, and offer novel--even bizarre--suggestions, then collaboration becomes a creative and enjoyable process.

Learn from FAILURE. The goal is not to eliminate all errors, but to quickly detect, analyze, and correct mistakes before they become fatal.

Think GLOBALLY. Leading a global team requires increased sensitivity to and understanding of your own cultural biases and preferences as well as those of your dispersed team members.

Eliminate HOARDING by challenging the “knowledge is power” attitude. There is nothing less powerful than hanging on to knowledge whose time has expired. 

Utilize the appropriate INFORMATION channels for different messages. Face-to-face is the richest communication channel, then video, then telephone, then email, and finally texting. The more complicated, emotional, or nuanced your message is, the richer your channel should be.

JOIN the team. Treat all team members as if they were your partners. Because that’s what they all are.

Capture both kinds of KNOWLEDGE. Explicit knowledge can be transferred in a document or presentation. Tacit knowledge (our instincts, hunches, experiences) is brought out in a conversation, a story, or a relationship. 

Think mini-culture LEADERSHIP. Regardless of an overall organizational culture, individual managers, supervisors, and team leaders can nurture high levels of collaboration within their own work group or staff. 

MIX it up. The simple act of bringing together people from different departments, is the first step in breaking down barriers between internal silos.

Build and nurture NETWORKS. High performers (and high performing teams) build, maintain, and leverage diverse networks that span organizational boundaries and extend beyond the organization.

Model OPEN communication. Leaders who are candid and transparent earn the trust of their team members. 

Encourage PARTICIPATION by making people feel safe, trusted and valued. 

Ask the right QUESTIONS. One of my favorites: What to we need to start, stop, or continue doing to make our team even more successful? 

Support RELATIONSHIPS. Taking time to build personal relationships between team members at the beginning of a project will dramatically increase their effectiveness later on. 

Tell STORIES. Collaboration is communicated best through stories – of successes, failures, opportunities, values, and experiences. 

Build TRUST. Trust is the foundation for collaboration. Without trust, a team loses its emotional “glue.” 

Focus on UNIFYING goals.  Business unit leaders must understand the overarching goals of the organization and the importance of working in concert with other areas to achieve those crucial objectives. 

Share your VALUES. One executive talked about his first job, working in a London bank, where he was treated as an inferior because he had a different accent and came from a lower social class than his co-workers. The executive went on to say that he never wanted anyone who worked for him to feel like that.

Make the WORKPLACE a collaborative asset. To facilitate collaboration, create environments that stimulate informal conversations from chance encounters. 

Take a tip from XEROX and encourage “water cooler” conversations. Xerox discovered that real learning doesn’t take place in the classroom or meeting room. As one wise CEO told me at a business conference, “All of the important conversations are taking place around the wine and cheese bar.”

Realize that collaboration is crucial for YOUR leadership success. No leader, regardless of how brilliant and talented, is smarter than the collective genius of his or her team.

Forget about reaching the ZENITH. Collaborative cultures are learning cultures – and collaborative leadership will always be a work in progress.

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  • Jake Salerno

    As we get better at collaborating with each other, our lives get easier and the world will become a better place for all of us to live.

  • Aaron Barnes

    Highly effective

  • Terry Peach

    I can testify it works well for the people I train with.

  • Gareth Hague

    Thank you, it gave me great insights.

  • Michael Buckley

    Beautiful words, thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Ashley Porretto

    Refreshing ideas

  • Joe Finnigan

    In the long term, it's better to hire amicable people as a priority criteria rather than so called high performers.

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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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