Today’s highly networked, partnership-oriented business environments require the skills of collaborative leaders. We see evidence that successful leaders are inclusive, culturally adaptive and empathetic, which are key components of collaborative leadership. It turns out that those skills are also drivers of diversity. They allow organizations to attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, which leads to more diversified leadership teams.
Millennials, who now account for one-third of the US workforce, are the most racially and ethnically diverse adult population in the nation’s history; and Gen Z is even more diverse. According to the 2021 Deloitte Millennial Survey, they want to work for organizations that make a positive contribution to society, foster innovative thinking and develop their skills. Gallup found they want purpose, not just a paycheck; they want coaches, not bosses. When they don’t get professional development opportunities and the leadership they need, they walk.
Collaborative leaders have what it takes to bring together people from different backgrounds, support their growth and sponsor their advancement. They do this in the following ways.
Collaborative leaders focus on purpose and meaningfulness.
Numerous studies show that the current, evolving, and diverse workforce wants to be part of an organization that makes a positive contribution, where an individual’s work is meaningful. Collaborative leaders generate a shared sense of purpose, creating a feeling of “we”, so that everyone in the organization feels that they are contributing to a greater cause. Creating a shared sense of purpose allows employees to fully participate, to have a more active and meaningful role in the process. Because they are aligned in a communal purpose; they can productively engage in collective problem solving and decision making, thus increasing their feeling of having control and adding value.
Collaborative leaders share power and information.
Being inclusive allows leaders to coalesce multiple sources of expertise and perspectives throughout the processes of assessment, problem solving, and decision making. Collaborative leaders are adaptable, flexible, and open-minded as they invite the contributions of diverse individuals. This confers value to differences, engaging and supporting people who are unlike the majority.
Collaborative leaders create a culture of trust.
Empathy is essential for leading highly diverse, multi-generational teams. Research by Daniel Goleman and others backs this up. Collaborative leaders’ empathy creates psychological safety in an environment where people will speak up and share ideas and not be muted by fear of not being accepted for who they are. That ability to fully participate fosters individual development. Collaborative leaders build connections with and among people at a personal level by tapping into our shared humanity. They create common ground that diminishes hierarchical differences and bridges personal differences. They show high regard for all employees, recognizing their contributions and specifically spelling out why their roles are valued. Collaborative leaders ask questions and listen. And in doing so, they communicate “I care, I’m interested, and I understand.” They establish a sense of community and belonging. These are all features and qualities of a culture of trust.
Collaborative leaders have a keen eye for emerging talent from varied backgrounds.
Since they are listeners and they are empathetic, collaborative leaders get a good sense of who a person is, what they care about, and how they interact. They recognize the value of diverse backgrounds and skills, which means they are open to considering individuals who may not have the perfect resume or conventional experience. They pick up on skills and capabilities that are transferable and relevant. They see what others don’t because they tune into information that is subtle.
Collaborative leaders give emerging leaders visibility.
Gaining visibility is essential for advancement. Collaborative leaders provide visibility in two ways. First, they include select individuals in high-level discussions to expose them to strategic conversations. This gives the individuals opportunities to interact with senior level leaders and participate in discussions, debates, and decision making at that top level, building their critical thinking, confidence, and influence. Second, they position their emerging leaders to gain visibility and credibility with both internal and external stakeholders by assigning them important projects and placing them in pivotal roles. They sponsor them for prominent speaking engagements. Collaborative leaders share the spotlight and shine the spotlight, providing opportunities for those around them to take the stage.
Collaborative leaders place high value on developing tomorrow’s leaders.
Tom Peters says that leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders. Collaborative leaders take this to heart. They are avid developers of talent who see nurturing future leaders as a responsibility of their role. They are committed to developing women and minorities who will broaden their organization’s access to different perspectives. They give people a chance to “take the wheel” and learn by doing. They treat mistakes as learning opportunities. Collaborative leaders are teacher and coach, asking questions like “what could make it go better next time?” “where are we going next?”, “what’s your strategy?”
The path to building truly inclusive organizations and diverse leadership is paved by the commitment and actions of collaborative leaders. By focusing on common purpose, sharing power, and spotting and developing emerging talent, these leaders nurture organizational cultures where individual differences are appreciated, and everyone can thrive.
About the Author
Carol Vallone Mitchell Ph.D. In 2001, Carol co-founded Talent Strategy Partners LLC, a leadership development consultancy that helps companies maintain a robust leadership pipeline through succession planning and leadership development.
Carol’s leadership research led to authoring Collaboration Code: How Men Lead Culture Change and Nurture Tomorrow’s Leaders and Breaking Through “Bitch”: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly. She has written numerous articles for the Huffington Post and other publications including Chief Learning Officer, TD magazine, Forbes, WorldatWork Workspan, Thrive Global, Philadelphia Business Journal, and Fast Company.
Carol received her doctorate in Organizational Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania where she developed a behavioral profile of success for women leaders. Carol is co-chair of the Leadership Subgroup for Beacon, a premier executive networking organization. She is also a member of Philly SHRM’s Thought Leadership Team.