Collaborative leadership is about delivering results across boundaries. The nature of that boundary is important, whether it's a formal contract or an informal agreement between two parties to work together for a common aim. And leaders need to be clear about where the boundary lies and how to use the different capabilities on either side of it to build a positive and efficient relationship. As the poet Robert Frost once put it, 'Good fences make good neighbours'.Getting value from difference is at the heart of the collaborative leader's task. But that is not without its challenges. As in many marriages, it is often this difference - in skills, experience, resources or culture - that attracts organisations to work together in the first place. Then, as time goes by, people start to rail against that very difference and try to remove it wherever it causes frustration in the joint operation. An often-heard criticism is 'Why can't they be more like us?'. But of course the truth is that if they were, you'd have lost the very reason that brought the two of you together.So, collaborative leaders have to pull off a tricky balancing act - on the one hand, respecting and valuing the differences of a partner, while on the other, smoothing out some of those differences in the interests of making the relationship work more efficiently. At the same time, leaders have to learn to share control, and to trust a partner to deliver, even though that partner may operate very differently from themselves. Collaborative leadership is a sophisticated art - but mastering this complexity lies at the heart of business success now and in the future.
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November 25, 2008
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