Collaboration is Important for Successful Leadership

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Everyone knows that collaboration is good, but how do you encourage people to practice it?
It’s dangerous for leaders to have everyone around the table agreeing with them. I have one of the most diverse teams in terms of gender, race, background; people who have deep expertise in medical devices and then others who have very little; people who have been with the company for a long time versus those who are new. When I review presentations one of the first things I ask is, who else have you shared this with? What kind of feedback have you received? It’s engagement and enrollment–inspirational leadership, which goes beyond collaboration, which is getting input. But if you get input and you don’t listen and you don’t do anything different, people will stop giving you input. With inspirational collaboration you can see how the ideas morph and change as a result of the input you’ve gathered. I won’t end a meeting until I’ve heard from everyone. I try to create a safe environment for people to disagree. That’s the other thing. Leaders can say that they want to hear different opinions, but it’s important to create a culture where people can tell the truth.

If your focus is collaboration, how do you stand out as a leader?
One of the most critical things is being able to create followership. Being a good leader is not just coming up with lofty ideas, but creating ideas that others can be excited about and want to help you accomplish. You have to earn it. You have to influence team members not because they report to you but because they want to do what you’re asking them to do. You’ve positioned an argument that’s believable. Power isn’t delegated through a title or level. It’s influence over time. It’s a person who is able to build and sustain relationships with customers–and their peers. If you’re only able to manage up, that’s a red flag. Three-hundred-and-sixty degree leadership is very important to me. The reward of leadership is delivering results. Collaboration is how you get those results. Those who stand out are those who demonstrate an ability to synthesize big, disparate ideas into coherent strategies and then organize and align resources to execute them. Collaboration is not an end in itself, but it is a powerful enabler of extraordinary results.

What can a professional do to enhance their personal brand even as a strong collaborator?
You should always know your hallway reputation. One of the major obstacles for women and particularly women of color is not knowing what people think and are saying about them when they’re not in the room. They are making major future career decisions on information that people may not ever say to your face. Don’t rely on any one boss to give you feedback on your future or about your career. Make it a point to talk to enough people so that you’re getting 360-degree information all the time. I have mentors at all levels of the organization who always tell me my reputation.