Transitioning from hero to collaborator

ILM logoTo boldly go where no man has gone before: part of The Captains Oath from Star Trek. For many senior managers today, the world of collaborative management can be just as alien, their experiences shaped predominantly within organisations rooted in hierarchical structures redolent of the nineteenth century.

Hierarchical and transactional management reflect a dominant form of organisational structure where each manager exercises authority over their subordinates who, in turn, do exactly what is expected of them. Since time immemorial the dictum has been I tell; you do.

Just as the agricultural and industrial revolutions saw unprecedented changes in agricultural production and the transition to new manufacturing processes respectively,the technological revolution in the last decade has brought about some of the biggest changes seen in business management. Increasing dependency on technology, globalisation, the creation of disruptive business models and the development of the collaborative team (amongst others) are driving a growing number of companies to the realisation that unshakeable hierarchical structures and command-and control leadership styles are no longer viable.

Whilst a predominant focus on bottom-line profitability and competitiveness is understandable, such a myopic view today works against business leaders. It fails to fully take into account that their organisations are a matrix of human endeavours; groups of people who collectively create and develop what the company produces. Therefore, it is the quality of the people (from top to bottom), how they interact and the quality of their relationships that can make or break an organisation.

Despite all the hype around increased cross-industry leadership, there is still a strong tendency to see the same types of leaders emerging whether in sports, business or politics. The apprenticeship model of management is still the norm. However, to make the transition from transactional to transformational means that managers need to learn new skills and unlearn old ones in order to become genuine collaborative leaders.

One of the difficulties organisations face, however, is that this new breed of leader is not being developed fast enough to match the new environment which requires more complex, adaptive thinking abilities.

Harvard Business Review neatly sums up the requirements of transformational leadership in a recent article, outlining six key attributes which collaborative managers need to align with:

Inspiration and motivation energises people to achieve exceptional results. Even difficult employees need to be encouraged. Collaborative managers aim for and expect the best not the worst.

Trust the foundation for developing good relationships. Hardly surprising, but consistency is the key issue here.

Development is truly concerned about developing subordinates. Working hard, achieving what is expected and getting paid for it is one thing, working hard, achieving what is expected, getting paid and being able to learn new skills is quite another. Thats what differentiates a career from just a job.

Meaningful communication provides others with a definite sense of direction and purpose. Effective communicators do a number of things really well: They listen, they share purposeful information keeping everyone well informed and they invite views and opinions from others.

Integrity and honesty avoids saying one thing and doing another. Its not okay to say to a subordinate Youre doing okay when clearly theyre not or theyre only just making the grade. Like trust, honesty is a fundamental building block for developing positive relationships. Most people want to know when they are falling short and be given the opportunity to improve their situation.

Relationship building balances getting results with a concern for the needs of others.

Its easier for managers to develop positive relationships with people they like. Thats only natural, but its equally important to understand possible feelings of exclusion from those who believe they are excluded from the inner circle. Effective leaders spread their attention more broadly amongst all those they work with.

These attributes are a far cry from the traditional style of command-and-control or autocratic management. As I have written in the past, the motivation of the new generation of employees (the Y or Millennial Generation) can be quite different from previous generations and it is vital that managers understand this. These employees dont seek a career but rather a series of rewarding experiences. A workplace culture based on a democratic and collaborative management style, team building and a sense of belonging are the defining points for the Y generation.

Unlike the post-war Baby Boomer generation who accepted this style of management during their careers, the Y generation will simply reject hierarchy and walk away from organisations with such a management regime. Thats one of the reasons why todays leaders need to be collaborative and supportive, focusing their attention on building platforms and creating the opportunities for their teams to develop.

Certainly, the successful executive may well have developed a strong transactional style of management but also need to be able to clearly demonstrate a more transformative and collaborative approach to leadership.

Creating the business leaders of tomorrow, the people who will continue to drive the organisation forward, requires a mind shift which will push many to where no man (or woman!) has gone before.

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