By Michael Gunther
For as long as I can remember, I have always been in leadership roles, starting with student council and extracurricular clubs to eventually running companies and non-profit groups. As I reflect on my leadership journey, I realize I have never stopped learning and growing. I think this is one of those journeys that is about “becoming” a leader vs. simply “achieving” a leadership role. To become a collaborative leader, you should realize that your goals will evolve, and you must continually assess and evaluate your effectiveness while learning and discovering new approaches and skills.
In theory this sounds like a straightforward and easy concept, but in reality I found it difficult to consistently evaluate my effectiveness as a leader. Through the years, I have seen many approaches to leadership that don’t seem to be working. There are those leaders who never change, and end up managing their teams in the same way for decades. They haven’t updated their knowledge or approach and are surprised that their results continue to be inconsistent. These are the “it worked once, why change?” leaders. Their approach may have been successful earlier in their career, but without adjusting and learning, they have become less relevant.
On the other side of the leadership spectrum, you’ll find the “book of the month” leaders. These leaders are always trying to find the latest leadership concept and silver bullet to become a great leader. They are constantly shifting strategy based on the latest leadership theory fad, but they never really change or adjust their own behaviors. Their teams are usually running from one idea to the next, trying to support their leader’s new direction without truly making any progress.
The third set of leaders are what I call “Collaborative” leaders. These leaders know that they must constantly evolve in meaningful ways. They search for feedback and measure their ability to create a genuine collaboration with their teams. They realize that life is full of changes, and they need to meet the ever-changing demands of their employees and stakeholders. A core belief of these leaders is the understanding that the stronger they become, the better their team will perform. They know that leadership isn’t about them; rather it’s how effective they are at assisting others in achieving their goals.
I do consider myself one of these “Collaborative” leaders, but I confess that it isn’t always an easy road. For example, I recently reviewed our team’s Collaborative Work Environment assessment report with one of our consultants. The assessment demonstrates how my perception aligns with my team’s on 7 core areas that break or build trust between us. It provides specific data in these key areas so I can understand where I, as a leader, need to focus with my team for the next 90 days to build a higher performing work environment.
As an individual who works with leaders for a living, I was intrigued at my initial response to the report. I felt that we had made further progress in some areas as a team, but I learned that the team was still being challenged with certain aspects of our work environment. I felt myself becoming defensive with the feedback, but I quickly realized that their perception is their reality. With the lack of alignment, we still have some work to do to become a stronger team.
It dawned on me that this ongoing assessment is providing me an opportunity to gain feedback from my team and, more importantly, giving me the ability to adjust and grow as a leader to improve my team’s performance. By assessing how you are doing in breaking or building trust when creating authentic, purposeful and impactful collaboration, you are gaining priceless information for your journey of becoming a collaborative leader.
As a leader and business owner, you must never stop engaging and learning from your team on the effectiveness of your performance. If you think you don’t need to change, my guess is you are probably suffering from poor employee engagement or an underperforming team. The journey of leadership never ends; if you are not assessing your leadership abilities, you are only slowing down yourself, your team and your organization’s growth.