Culture & Competency

Leadership vs. Collaboration? – Opposing and Contradictory?

Writing in 2007, Diann posits that leadership and collaboration are two opposing and contradictory concepts.

Whilst leadership in a traditional sense is about a leader leading others who are the followers, collaboration is about working together and moving ahead as a team. So why are these two concepts juxtaposed in so much of the theory and talk about leadership?

She quotes Andrew Carnegie, who talked about “great leaders” and the challenge of becoming one if the individual wanted to do it all themselves.

What I really like in Diann’s article, though, are the reasons for and against collaboration:

… what are the reasons for collaboration? Some of the reasons are:
– The leader can use the varied skills of others.
– The leader can use the knowledge and experience of others.
– The leader can consider and use the perspectives of others thus widening the focus and usefulness of the initial vision.
– A collaborative team environment is productive and conducive to greater creativity.
– The outcomes are owned by the team meaning responsibility for achieving the outcomes is shared.

So, what are some of the reasons leaders have for not wanting to collaborate?
– The leader does not want to let go of the vision and change it to include others input.
– The leader feels that they do not need the help of others to achieve the vision.
– The leaders feel that they cannot trust others with the responsibility of being involved in the whole process of achieving the vision that they see as being significant.
– The leader sees others as not having the competence to work with them on this initiative.

My Comments
1. I guess it comes down to how we define the word “leadership.” I don’t see leading and collaborating as “opposing and contradictory,” although they clearly are if the leader (a person) has a worldview and style that excludes the input of others. But that’s the choice of a leader, not a leadership premise per se.

2. In Diann’s list of reasons for collaboration, I was drawn to the repetition of the word “use” in reference to what the leader does. In the first three bullet points, the language Diann uses paints the leader as all-knowing and all-powerful in making decisions on what do use (and what to discard) – not a particularly collaborative way of approaching the input and expertise of others.

3. With respect to the reasons not to collaborate, all of those are extremely valid, if the leader (a) hasn’t developed trusting and interdependent relationships with the people he or she could work with, or (b) can’t see any other way of working without undermining their self-concept as a leader. Some leaders – John Chambers at Cisco comes to mind – are trying to become more collaborative and embed collaborative ways of working within their leadership styles and organizations. It does, however, take time to re-wire the way people work together.

4. There are different modes of leadership, and this comes back to the definition we embrace. There is “autocratic leadership” – which tells people what to do. There is also “collaborative leadership” – which embraces the experiences and expertise of others.

5. How would you describe your leadership style today? Where do you need to get to in 12 months?

Categories: Culture & Competency

1 reply »