Post co-written by Carol V Mitchell, Ph. D., cofounder Talent Strategy Partners and author of Collaboration Code
Companies see collaborative leaders as essential in today’s partnership-oriented business environments. They foster unity across organizational silos to make decisions quickly, gain cross-functional collaboration, and create cohesive teams. They build trust and engagement. These skills are also critical to lead through crisis.
Collaborative leaders not only can pull their organizations out of the jaws of failure but propel them to excellence. They don’t just “fix” the problem, but rather, they take a holistic view of the organization that created and sustained the problem. They look at the toxicity imbedded in the culture. Yet in many organizations, traditional directive male leadership has been predominant, and their leaders do not necessarily have the skills to lead collaboratively, nurture culture change, and turn around businesses. Carol’s research of executive men who do lead collaboratively and rescue failing businesses revealed that these leaders have a shared set of traits and skills.
A foundational trait is tempering their ego. This allows collaborative leaders to focus on others and beyond self-interest. Because they don’t look for affirmation, they are capable of being vulnerable and admit they don’t know all the answers. Tempering ego enables them to relate to the emotions of others, wholeheartedly listening to their people and valuing what they have to say and contribute. In doing so, they communicate , “I care,” “I’m interested,” and “I understand” thereby engendering connections and solidifying teams. Empathy, listening, and respecting are three key behaviors exhibited by collaborative leaders that require side stepping ego. With that personal infrastructure in place, three organizational leadership skills come into play: driving mission and meaningfulness, cultivating shared accountability, and developing future leaders.
This is the collaborative leadership that saved the organ procurement organization, Nevada Donor Network (NDN) from being shut down. Joe, the new CEO, came into an organization where people were disenfranchised. NDN was under imminent threat of discreditation and was entrenched in a culture of fear, paralysis and failure, further exacerbated by the abrupt departure of multiple CEOs and other senior executives in a short period of time. He chronicles the organization’s turnaround in his upcoming book Uncomfortable Inclusion: How to Build a Culture of High Performance in Life and Work.
Joe: “Because the team had not been privy to important events and the rationale for decisions in the past, transparency was immediately installed to build trust and engagement. We took feedback from the team and began making decisive changes based on that feedback. We listened empathetically and acted on what mattered to them.”
Driving mission and meaningfulness also helped to re-enfranchise people in the organization and bring them together around a shared purpose.
Joe: “People felt defeated for so long. Given this sentiment we decided to dream big and fight for excellence right out of the gate. We inspired people to be the best and prove our excellence to the world on behalf of the heroic donors, their courageous families, and the recipients we serve. This was a significant galvanizing force in our resolve to succeed.”
Cultivating shared accountability reestablished and strengthened relationships inside and outside the organization.
Joe: “We made sure that as an organization and as leaders we were going to learn about and support things people individually cared about to ensure their success while the organization succeeded. When you are vested in people’s success, they become more passionate about safeguarding the success of the organization they are a part of or are supporting.”
With an eye on sustaining the successful outcomes they’d achieved, Joe focused on developing future leaders using his philosophy of uncomfortable inclusion.
Joe: “We deliberately include all leaders at all levels in the organization during the decision- making process and we do not hold anything back. Our strategic planning is a bottom-up approach to ensure maximum buy in, innovation, and optimal productivity. This notion of uber- transparency assures that leaders feel informed and empowered to be a part of our collective success while they are learning to lead. We identify leadership and development potential for each of the leaders in the organization, identify keys areas of development, and ensure they have access to resources so that they can continually grow and succeed.”
Since Joe stepped into his role at Nevada Donor Network, the organization has surged to become the world’s best performing organ procurement organization in the number of lives saved and healed through organ, eye and tissue donation per capita served. This is a testimony to the power of collaborative leadership.