Collaborative leadership begins with you

Collaboration: having been bandied about the boardroom for decades, it nonetheless remains an enigmatic concept in business today. Is it merely one of those hackneyed buzzwords that are so heavily frowned upon on CVs and company mission statements, or rather an incredibly relevant concept that applies to the modern organisation?

Businesses of all size and shape today will do well to ensure collaboration is still a major priority – and the onus, no doubt, falls on the organisation’s leader. This seems to hold true across the world, at least according to an extensive global study led by CEO and author John Gerzema.

In the study, researchers polled 64,000 individuals across 13 countries on the qualities they believed led to successful leaders and businesses. One of the most prominent insights garnered in the study was that most people wanted their leaders to be more collaborative, with this trait ranking among the highest, along the likes of flexibility and selflessness.

In fact, an overwhelming 84 per cent believed that greater collaboration and sharing of credit are essential to a successful modern career. So what does this mean for those sitting at the top of businesses today?

It means it’s time to take collaborative leadership seriously, if you aren’t doing so already.

What does it really mean to be a collaborative leader?

The importance of collaboration aside, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it means and entails, especially in a leadership context.

It’s worth having a look around to see how different people define collaborative leadership. According to an infographic from the Collaborative Lead Training Co., the workplace is evolving towards a more collaborative future and thus redefining leadership.

The infographic lays out eight key differences between traditional leadership and collaborative leadership. Among these are the notions that in contrast with the traditional model, collaborative leadership:

  • Believes power is greatest in a collective team, rather than coming from a position of authority
  • Openly shares information and knowledge, rather than imposing ownership on it
  • Elicits suggestions and ideas from across the team – all the time
  • Empowers the team with immediate time and resources, rather than providing these only when necessary

As can be seen from the infographic’s suggestions, a collaborative leader is one who embraces a ‘flatter’ organisational structure, sharing authority and accountability around the team instead of hoarding it themselves.

Additionally, in an April 17 2013 HRZone article, leadership consultants David Archer and Alex Cameron said there are three essential skills and three essential attitudes behind a collaborative leader. Even if a leader possesses the three skills, they will not be able to be fully collaborative if they don’t have the attitudes to match.

According to Archer and Cameron, the three vital skills for collaborative leadership are mediation, influencing and engaging others. Collaborative leaders, they say, are adept at addressing and resolving conflicts the moment they arise. In addition, they are skilled at influencing peers based on the organisation’s culture – which is a critical skill to have if they hope to share control and leadership.

Lastly, engagement and relationship building are essential qualities for a collaborative leader, and this involves clear communication.

So, what are the attitudes that accompany these crucial skills? Archer and Cameron outline agility, patience and empathy as the mindsets that leaders should adopt if they wish to be collaborative.

It is clear that there are some common threads that unite the schools of thought around collaborative leadership. Leaders attempting to follow this model should place emphasis on the team rather than the individual, promote a flat and open company structure and empower their employees. This should be backed up with quick-thinking and the ability to take others’ points of view.

Why it pays to be collaborative

But why is collaborative leadership so important? Especially in the modern business world, where technology is exponentially growing in prevalence and reshaping traditional interpersonal communication, adopting a collaborative culture is essential.

This was pointed out by Carol Kinsey Goman in a February 13 2014 Forbes article. Ms Goman stresses that the dreaded silo mentality is holding back countless organisations today, and not sharing information around the company can essentially “kill” it.

As a recent study by Interaction Associates suggests, not embracing collaborative leadership can also hurt your company’s bottom line. The group conducted a study on what impacts the confluence of leadership, collaboration and trust can have on a business – including its financial performance.

In the study, Interaction Associates ranked more than 150 companies based on how well they embodied these three components. It found that those considered strong across the three traits demonstrated superior financial results – for example, their P/E ratios were 28.5 per cent higher on average for those classed as weak.

Collaboration is not just a vague ideal that companies should aim for – it is a very real concept with tangible results, and it’s time to embed this into your leadership today.

Is narcissism a good leadership trait?

It is not uncommon for leaders to be narcissists – their talent for self-promotion and innate confidence means they are not afraid to throw their hat in the ring for powerful positions.

However, are narcissists reaching senior roles because they are inherently good leaders? Or does natural charisma cover some of their negative traits?

A recent study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) found that narcissism seems to have a limited impact on leadership skills. Instead, extremely narcissistic people tend to be poor leaders.

The academic institution examined previously unanalysed Hogan data, which revealed correlations between very high and low levels of narcissism and job performance.

Emily Grijalva, lead author of the study, said the findings clearly showed that narcissism is best in moderation.

“With too little, a leader can be viewed as insecure or hesitant, but if you’re too high on narcissism, you can be exploitative or tyrannical,” she explained.

Positions of power

The research supports a similar study that was conducted in 2008 by Ohio State University (OSU), which revealed there is limited correlation between narcissism and good leadership.

According to the university, narcissists are typically self-centred, overconfident in their abilities and lack empathy.

One study involved placing people into groups of four and provided them with a scenario where they had to imagine being shipwrecked on an island with no contact with civilisation.

They could pick 15 salvageable items from the wreck to bring ashore to help them survive until help arrived.

The results revealed narcissists quickly take control of a leaderless group, ruling discussions and making decisions. They often saw themselves as the leader and were also considered the leader by other team members.

However, when each list of items was analysed by a survival expert, teams led by narcissists performed no better than other groups.

Assistant Professor of Psychology at OSU Amy Brunell said the outcome is hardly a surprise.

“[Narcissists] like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extroverted. But the problem is, they don’t necessarily make better leaders,” she said.

Spotting image over substance

Clearly, some narcissists are benefiting from leadership development opportunities largely because of their ability to talk the talk.

Peter Harms, assistant professor of management in UNL’s College of Business Administration, claimed narcissists typically make a very good impression when you first meet them.

“Narcissists are great in interview situations – if you can reduce a leadership contest down to sound bites, you will give them an advantage,” he stated.

Despite this, the charisma will eventually wear off and colleagues tend to become aware that their overly confident colleagues aren’t quite as good as they think they are.

“At the personal level, they can be jerks. At the strategic level, they can take huge gambles because they’re so confident they’re right. They’re either making a fortune or they’re going broke,” he stated.

According to UNL researchers, the study should act as a warning to employers. They may need to examine their current hiring and leadership development practices to ensure they don’t unfairly play to the strengths of narcissists.

However, they also said people with very low levels of narcissism may not necessarily make better candidates either.

Can narcissists be reformed?

One of the key problems of narcissism is a lack of empathy, which could lead to poor treatment of employees in the workplace from those in senior positions.

New research from the University of Surrey and the University of Southampton could help organisations to overcome this issue and encourage narcissists to empathise with colleagues.

The institutions split people into two groups: ‘low narcissists’ and ‘high narcissists’. The participants were read a vignette describing a relationship break-up to gauge their reactions.

As expected, narcissists showed little sympathy for the subject, even when the scenario was fairly severe – for example, when the individual suffered depression due to the split.

The groups were then shown a video of someone experiencing domestic violence, but this time they were instructed to take the perspective of the victim. Specifically, they were prompted to imagine how the victim felt.

Narcissists reported significantly higher levels of empathy in these circumstances, with physiological evidence – such as increased heart rate – supporting this.

Lead researcher Erica Hepper said: “If we encourage narcissists to consider the situation from their teammate or friend’s point of view, they are likely to respond in a much more considerate or sympathetic way.”

The results could have significant ramifications for the business world, implying narcissistic leaders could be developed into more sympathetic, team-focused members of staff.

Having an egotistical person in charge can quickly create a toxic workplace environment, leading to poor productivity, high employee turnover and – in worst-case scenarios – accusations of bullying or negligence.

If your organisation has self-centred individuals impacting the workplace, perhaps consider coaching or mediation sessions to improve their performance and enhance staff morale.

6 reasons why introverts make excellent leaders

When imagining a successful leader, many people automatically envisage someone with a bold personality, charisma, and a knack for public speaking and commanding social situations. This bias has also existed in businesses for many years, with organisations typically looking to promote extroverts to leadership positions rather than staff who are prone to introversion.

A 2006 USA Today study revealed that 65 per cent of senior executives believed introversion to be a barrier to effective leadership. In fact, only 6 per cent said introverts make the best leaders.

However, the list of frequently cited introverts who have made successful leaders is long, including modern names such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as well as historic faces like Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.

Therefore, what traits make introverts powerful and motivational leaders? Particularly when they face the stereotype of being quiet, shy and reserved. To answer that question, here are six reasons why introverts could be the right choice for leadership positions at your organisation.

1. New perspective

If your business only promotes extroverts to leadership roles, it can be difficult to gain a different perspective on problems or issues. Introverts can bring new ideas and suggestions to the table that offer fresh direction.

A mixture of introverts and extroverts can optimise brainstorming sessions and other meetings by combining two sets of talents in a way that is mutually beneficial for the creative process.

2. Careful preparation

Introverts like to be prepared, especially for social situations where they may otherwise feel uncomfortable, such as presentations, business meetings, networking events or speeches.

Any additional time spent researching, practising and understanding goals and strategies often pays dividends. Extroverts, while often naturally charming, can be guilty of ‘winging it’. This could cost them opportunities if colleagues or potential customers feel they have more style than substance.

3. Calming influence

Bringing together a room full of extroverts can mean emotions occasionally spill over, which could result in heated arguments and process delays.

Introverts, on the other hand, are usually more reflective and less likely to be directly confrontational. This can help to calm passions and temper egos when meetings spiral out of control.

4. Better at leading proactive teams

Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that introverts are often better leaders for naturally proactive employees.

This is because they tend to be more receptive to a team’s ideas, which motivates and galvanises staff who are already passionate about their job. However, in the same study, extroverts were found to be more effective at leading passive teams that needed more direction.

5. Keen sense of self

Introverts tend to be better at self-evaluation, meaning they are adept at identifying the positives and negatives in their performances and making adjustments to improve.

An extrovert’s extreme self-confidence could lead them to ignore or not notice flaws in their skills and abilities, or worse, lay the blame elsewhere.

6. One-on-one skills

Whereas extroverts are comfortable flitting between social contacts and talking to a number of different people, individually or in groups, introverts often prefer building strong one-on-one connections.

The advantage is that interpersonal relationships are deeper and often longer lasting. Suppliers, customers and colleagues also feel more appreciated and respected when you take the time to build these ties.

Different leadership styles from around the world

Businesses are operating in an increasingly global environment, which requires careful consideration of cultural differences when marketing goods and services worldwide.

This is particularly true for Australian organisations hoping to take advantage of growing opportunities in Asian markets, with the country ideally placed to strengthen trade relationships on the continent.

Whether you are dealing with international partners or setting up an office in an overseas location, understanding typical leadership styles in that country can be extremely beneficial to bolstering smooth-running relationships.

So what are the main leadership styles exhibited worldwide? British linguist Richard D Lewis explored the nuances between a number of countries in his 1996 book ‘When Cultures Collide‘, which is now in its third edition.

Here is a summary of some of the common characteristics outlined in the book.


Australian leaders are thought to be fairly democratic, with Mr Lewis pointing to Swedish egalitarianism models as a close comparison.

However, Australian organisations are also guided by the more aggressive American way of doing business, which favours quick thinking and fast decision-making.

According to Mr Lewis, Australian executives must be considered ‘one of the mates’, but once they have achieved this status they often exert important influence.

Research by the Australian Institute of Management has previously found that the country’s leaders are supportive, preferring coaching and mentoring rather than focusing on individual mistakes.


Diplomatic, tactful and casual, British managers are often fair and willing to compromise.

Under the surface though, UK leaders have a pragmatic streak that ensures they can be resilient and ruthless, but in a subtler manner than is stereotypically seen in US counterparts.

Where British employees can falter is in international communications, with an adherence to tradition and inward-looking perspective that can prevent cross-cultural learning.


Japanese businesses are more likely to have a bottom-up approach to innovation and change, Mr Lewis claims.

Top executives may harness substantial power, but new ideas typically come from workers on the ground. These are then filtered up through middle management to senior executives and are put in place when they gain enough support.

This process involves the circulation of a document called a ringi-sho, which is annotated and amended by various departments as it makes its way up the leadership chain.


Like in Japan, Chinese leadership is often geared towards consensus decision-making, which Mr Lewis describes as the Confucian model. This means a leadership group is usually in charge of policy implementation.

However, unlike in truly democratic leadership styles, there is a respect for unequal relationships. Organisational structures are similar to families, with age and seniority being greatly revered.

A benevolent autocrat is considered the ideal boss, and subordinates expect to be given instructions.

The US

US leaders are often assertive, aggressive and goal orientated, which Mr Lewis says is a result of the country’s frontier beginnings shown since the 18th century.

“They are capable of teamwork and corporate spirit, but they value individual freedom above the welfare of the company, and their first interest is furthering their own career,” he stated.

Leadership positions are usually allocated based on merit and Americans are not shy about pursuing wealth as their main motivation.


Nepotism is a key feature of Indian leadership structures. Decision-making is often made between family members holding senior positions within the organisation.

Trade groups exert a significant influence in the country and strong inter-personal relationships can develop between these organisations.


German efficiency is commonly referred to when discussing businesses in the country – and while it may be a stereotype, there is truth to the notion.

Clear chains of command exist in each department, with information passing through the hierarchy in a top-down fashion. However, despite this autocratic approach, there is room for consensus in German leadership models.

Germans often gain the respect of subordinates by showing a willingness to work hard, obey the rules and play fair. Horizontal communication between department leaders is less common than in US and British firms.


France’s leadership models are among the most autocratic, although Mr Lewis says this may not be particularly evident at first glance.

CEOs often have skills across a wide range of areas, including marketing, production, accounting and personnel – shifting gears as and when required.

Due to this comprehensive coverage, management blunders are more accepted in French businesses, as leaders are responsible for a large number of decisions across many departments.


The Netherlands values merit-based appointments, so Dutch leaders can often point to many achievements and competencies.

While managers in the country are decisive, consensus is important and there are commonly a number of key individuals involved during new policy implementations.

Mr Lewis adds that ideas have free flow throughout Dutch organisations, suggesting bottom-up creativity is encouraged.