Effective collaboration leadership draws on unique elements of the collaborative process. Leaders set an example for new ways of interacting and are able to tap into members’ strengths. Leaders also keep a watchful eye on collaborative processes, monitoring progress. This approach differs from ‘being in charge’ and ‘directing’, which are the focus of traditional leadership.
Who leads and when?
Leading is challenging. It could be a shared role. This would rely on a careful understanding of contexts and responses, of knowing when to step up and when to step back to allow others to take responsibilities. Leadership can shift according to member expertise or the project phase.
Leading as creating
The leader brings about conditions and processes to enable learning and to foster respect for all participants. The leader creates positive collaborative processes and ensures that those processes are adopted and cared about. The leader does not have to find the solution, but creates and facilitates capacity for the group to reframe and develop fresh approaches. Leaders help to maximise combined efforts.
Leading as a catalyst to build trust
Catalyst leadership draws on the ability to connect with participants, letting them know what can be achieved and that joint action benefits their parent organisations. It can also benefit broader sectors such as business, primary industries and the community. If the leader can set the example, then they become a catalyst for new processes. Their strong sense of the purpose and vision helps participants develop trust and respect. The leader influences members to join and shape the vision.
Leaders need to keep participants engaged because new modes of interacting take time. An open and inclusive environment supports sharing of opinions, data, insights and ways to manage different views and emerging conflicts.
Leading as being a monitor
Leaders are monitors and reviewers of group and collaborative processes. If commitment wavers or progress stagnates, response and reinvigoration is called for. If the collaborative spirit is affected by non-contributors or fence-sitters, suitable responses are needed to avoid being undermined. The leader monitors or reviews interactions and processes. New ideas and new processes might be needed for particular individuals or stakeholder sub-groups.
Leading as seizing opportunity
There is a balance between the facilitating or nurturing function and the need to drive outcomes. A collaborative environment leads to opportunity which sometimes needs tough decisions and quick actions. Leaders need to promote the benefits of the collaborative approach with decision makers including business, community and government sectors. Success can be influenced by getting buy-in from collaborating participants, their parent organisations and other relevant stakeholders. An understanding of opportunity and constraints, risk and potential reward is needed.