Collaborative leadership offers greater outcomes

Collaborative leadership is practiced in communities and organizations across the state.

What is collaborative leadership? Collaborative leadership is found in the relationships among a group of people who are united in trust, identity and commitment. They have set aside differing agendas to pursue a common vision, one they can call their own. These relationships develop and gain strength over time as group members learn to accept and respect each other.

Collaborative leadership is a shared process in which people pool their abilities and resources to address mutual issues and attain outcomes they could not achieve individually. In this process the leadership gifts of individual participants emerge as needs arise and everyone owns both the process and the outcomes. Every participant becomes a leader.

Why is collaborative leadership needed? Collaborative leadership is a hopeful approach to complex problems that may seem to defy solutions. It arises from the recognition that society functions in interconnected systems. Problems such as environmental degradation, racial inequity, violence, homelessness or even budget reductions, cut across many sectors. These challenges require a broad and diverse coalition of people working together creatively and persistently. Collectively, a complete mechanism can accomplish much more than a single wheel.

Collaborative leadership doesn’t just happen. It requires facilitative or servant leaders who can shepherd the process of bringing diverse people together to explore and expand common interests, create a shared vision, agree on goals for change, engage in constructive action to accomplish tangible results as well as reflect upon and evaluate their work together.

Who leads collaborative leadership? The collaborative leader or leaders wishing to support change must be willing to facilitate and safeguard the collaborative process. They can do this by:

  • Ensuring that all parts of the community or organization are included.
  • Helping develop a common purpose and keep the focus clear.
  • Guiding the group through envisioning and creating change.
  • Engaging in reflective assessment of efforts.
  • Helping plan to sustain efforts or take on new challenges.
  • Sharing leadership – allowing the gifts of individual participants to emerge as needs arise.
  • Accepting that everyone owns the process and outcomes.

Finally, the foundation for collaborative leadership is trust. Trust by leaders in the capacity of people to work together to solve problems. Trust among the group that increases as they learn to accept and respect each other. Trust that together they can accomplish more than they can separately. Trust that participants are accepted for their strengths and not judged by their weaknesses.

This article, in part, was written collaboratively by a group of Michigan State University Extension educators, including Bonnie Wichtner-Zoia, for the Developing Community Leadership curriculum and guide, 2005.

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