Thursday, February 2, 2012

Collaborative Leadership Model

In this era of “star power” business leaders, individuals who find their faces, philosophies, and adages spread across the media landscape, I want to insert a different idea or model into the broader leadership debate. My core idea is that while individual leaders are very important to organizations, it is the unique and powerful combination of leadership talent on a senior management team that actually produces (or inhibits) significant results.

Let me take a moment to reinforce the importance of “Leadership” in today’s organizations. I have written a number of previous essays on this topic (the most read are “Three Impact Points of Leadership”, “A Teachable Point of View”, and “Leadership with a Growth Mindset”) and I feel deeply that exceptional leaders are precious and rare in organizations. I don’t think you can underestimate the impact of leaders inside of organizations, whether inspiring, educating, and directing groups to historic levels of achievement and success or the exact opposite. Across my 25+ year career, I have had the chance to work for a wide range of senior leaders and unfortunately, the average & mediocre far outnumber the exceptional!

With all of this as a preface, I want to share an idea that I have witnessed and personally experienced across my career that has lead to wonderful leadership moments and success; the concept is one of collaborative leadership models. In situations where I have seen the most effective leaders, or in my personal experiences where I have been most effective as a leader, are moments when the idea of a collaborative leadership model or team has been in place. While in every situation the actual business dynamics have varied widely, there were two fundamentals in place; common vision & values, and complementary skills.

Common Vision & Values

As I have experienced successful leadership teams, one thing that is fundamental is the idea of “common vision & values.” There should be no debate to where a company is going across the senior team. Any member of the senior team not only should be able to “recite” the company’s/organization’s vision, but has also deeply internalized it so that it is authentically theirs. Too often I have seen a CEO lead with a strong vision for a company, only to have it undermined by members of his/her leadership team with separate thoughts/visions for the future of the organization. Equally, senior leaders must have alignment on the values of the company, a common view on how things are to get accomplished across the company, not just in their words but in their actions being modeled every day. These set of aligned “vision and values” form a leadership foundation that is not exclusive to one individual, but modeled and reinforced across organizations regardless of function, department, division, or geography.

Complimentary Skills

Just as I have reflected on the common elements in successful leadership teams above, I want to reinforce an idea here that seeks out and celebrates the different strengths needed for a senior team to thrive. Every individual has specific strengths to leverage in the workplace. Whether it’s an orientation towards strategic thinking, strong financial acumen, operations/production disciplines, logistics capabilities, customer management expertise, consumer marketing skills, etc. , my experience shows that no single individual possesses them all in equal measure. Rather than CEOs/Presidents feeling like they need to be the “super heroes” of the executive suite and board room, my experience has shown that truly gifted leaders start by having a very candid and accurate assessment of their own strengths (and thus inherently their weaknesses!) This step allows senior leaders to build teams around him/her with individuals that have “complimentary skills” to their own, leveraging the strengths across the team to maximize the impact and success across the entire leadership team.

My personal experience has brought this idea to life clearly over a number of assignments. My professional background has a base in consumer marketing and sales/customer management assignments and my strengths clearly fall in the areas of building brands, serving customers, and leading teams. With that said, I know enough about myself to say openly that my skills in the areas of finance, accounting, and process management fall well behind my strengths mentioned above. With this in mind, across my career, I have looked to build leadership “teams/partnerships” with highly skilled MBA’s/CPA’s with very strong skills in the areas where I am the weakest. I think back to a number of “leadership partnerships” that I have had with a number of individuals across my career (I want to thank Steve, Mark, Arlene, and Wadih specifically!!!) that have been the most successful and effective leadership moments of my career.

As you think about your role as a leader, or as you strive to form and create a successful leadership team, try to keep these two ideas in mind, “common vision & values” and “complimentary skills”. Equally I encourage you to resist the temptation to become some type of “c-suite super hero;” keep your focus on the success of your organization and work to build a leadership team that has the blend of skills to drive success and a shared orientation towards a successful future.