What Collaborative Leaders Do


Through years of gathering and analyzing employee engagement data, we discovered diversity in convictions, cultural values, and operating norms inevitably add complexity to collaborative efforts and cohesiveness.  However, leaders who could accept employee feedback and change their leadership style were able to create work environments that are more innovative, productive and competitive. 

Here are 6 collaborative behaviors we have observed and why they are so important:

1. Values, Purpose and Vision.   “People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  Simon Sinek

Collaborative leaders create an environment where people can unite behind a common purpose, vision and set of values.   Through self-discovery exercises, facilitation and coaching, evolving leaders hold themselves accountable for developing and articulating their personal values, purpose and vision.   To be successful, leaders must understand and communicate their own “why” before they are able to influence others to follow them and align to the company’s purpose.  It’s passion that drives people to initiate, to act and draws them to conversations about the best ways to create, innovate and move in a new direction that benefits employees, customers and stakeholders. 

2. Lead Across. “What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean; we build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Isaac Newton

One of the toughest challenges faced by a newly promoted leader, is to realize your new team is not your direct reports, but the horizontal team consisting of your peers. Leading across departmental boundaries requires emotional intelligence and the ability to influence.  As a new or seasoned leader, here are the short-sighted behaviors that you need to avoid.   Better to proactively guard against these behaviors becoming the norm than trying to break through existing walls.

  • Quick Decision-Making. Decisions get made quickly when there's no interest in others' input or on the impact decisions may have downstream. This causes miss-steps in the execution process.
  • Deniability. It's harder for team members to say, "that's not my job" when they know about and care about the bigger picture.
  • Power. Inside the silo, you know and control everything. You'd have to share some of that control if your silo walls came down.  
  • Your Comfort Zone. Because things are contained, they don't change much. Even when change is happening elsewhere, you can temporarily insulate yourself from it.
  • Being in the Dark. Once the walls come down, you'll know what's happening in other areas and with other people. More interaction means more information flow.

3. Develop Leaders at All Levels“Leaders don’t create followers, leaders create leaders.” Tom Peters

More and more of our clients are removing the word “manager” from job titles for those who have direct reports.  This is intended to shape a culture where everyone is expected to lead.  Collaborative leaders commit to the development of leaders at all levels.  Letting go of control and sharing ownership gives others the opportunity to step up and develop their leadership skills.   This means viewing mistakes as opportunities to learn, grow and improve.

4. Build a Foundation of Trust.  “Over time, I have come to this simple definition of leadership: Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust.” Stephen M.R. Covey

One of the many concepts we convey during The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team workshops is trust.  Fear of commitment, lack of productive conflict and the avoidance of accountability are a result of the absence of trust.  To encourage trust, leaders need to be trustworthy.  Collaborative leaders have the courage required to trust others and to bring their own vulnerability to light.

5. Encourage Productive Conflict“Contrary to popular wisdom and behavior, conflict is not a dreadful thing for a team.  In fact, the fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems.”  Patrick Lencioni

When we observe a lack of trust throughout an organization, especially at the highest level of leadership, we always hear about the lack of accountability.  Lack of accountability creates ambiguity. Collaborative leaders build environments where productive conflict is encouraged.   The foundational skills demonstrated when engaging in productive conflict are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management with a focus on empathy, teamwork, and influence. Collaborative leaders view productive conflict as a way to uncover road blocks and develop more innovative and productive processes, products and greater customer empathy.

6. Lead with Transparency and Humility“Leadership is about making others better because of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Sheryl Sandburg

The real power of humble leadership is the fact that, by and large, it’s the type of leadership employees are looking for. Employees who work with collaborative leaders are not micromanaged.  Collaborative leaders encourage employees to seek out mentors and coaches who provide information about the inner workings of the company and the competition. This inspires them to become leaders themselves. Turns out, humility offers a competitive advantage.  According to a study from the University of Washington Foster School of Business, humble people tend to make the most effective leaders and are more likely to be high performers in both individual and team settings.

 When we receive requests for executive coaching or leadership development, the requests are commonly driven by leaders who want to make the leap from command and control leadership towards a collaborative leadership style.  Another influencing factor is the high-potential, next generation of leaders (HIPO Next Gens) seeking workplaces that match their values. The Next Gens naturally value leaders who seek feedback from employees and seek to empower and transform. Next Gens expect authenticity and value alignment (there is a need to understand “why”). They have the potential to be collaborative leaders because they intuitively look for innovative and collaborative ways to improve products, services and processes.

Because HIPO Next Gens are attracted to collaborative leaders and existing leaders want to shift from command and control styles, great opportunities exist for building leadership development programs that create synergy, common purpose and language between generations. If you are a leader who wants to leverage inclusion, diversity and purpose and desire to be the “Employer of Choice”, can you risk not developing collaborative leaders?  Call us for a free consultation.  You have nothing to lose…. or maybe you do!  What about the brightest and best employees who you invested in that keep leaving?  Yep!  That’s your first sign!

Midge Streeter   

Midge Streeter


As the Director of Talent Management & Culture, Midge Streeter leads three interrelated areas of professional focus: Culture Alignment and Employee Engagement, Leadership Development and Building Cohesive Teams. Through executive coaching, organizational and individual assessments, workshops and leadership retreats, Midge uses her years of experience in manufacturing, financial services, telecommunication and professional services, addition to a long list of certifications, to customize all organizational effectiveness solutions designed to help companies achieve their business goals.