How to be a more collaborative leader: 4 key competencies

Are you striving for even better collaboration with your team? Consider these tips for practicing and improving crucial behaviors
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What are the hallmarks of a truly collaborative leader? In my 14+ years at Red Hat, I have come to appreciate a set of soft skills competencies we call the Red Hat Multiplier. It consists of these behaviors: Connect, Extend trust, Be transparent, Collaborate, and Promote inclusive meritocracy. To become a more collaborative leader, I had to not only embrace it but practice it.

Let’s examine how and why these behaviors could help you become a more collaborative leader.

1. Collaborative leaders connect with their team members on a personal level

When they do that, their team members feel like they are cared for, their contributions are valued, and their perspectives are understood and taken into account. This causes commitment and engagement to increase. Employees put in a greater effort when they know that management is invested in them and cares about the things that impact their lives.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in the "The Tipping Point" that collaborative leaders need to play the role of global connectors. Their strength is in occupying many different worlds and bringing them together. If a leader is completely immersed only in team activities, how can they see what’s going on out there? How can they see all of the opportunities that are passing them by? Leaders need to be building communities, connecting teams, and managing cross-functional initiatives. For Red Hat associates, connection to the company mission, vision, coworkers, customers, and communities is critical to how the company operates on a day-to-day basis.

Leadership tip:

Examine the ways you personally connect with your team and consider new ideas, such as connection tools that may be needed in the era of remote work. Involve and empower the team members in the relevant decisions and discussions.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

2. Collaborative leaders encourage trust and transparency to foster a sense of a shared purpose 

Collaborative leaders prefer a bottom-up work style, where the people doing the actual work propose and determine direction, rather than the traditional top-down method, where a small group of managers at the top of the mountain set the tone for everyone else.

Consider Simon Sinek's idea of a "circle of safety."

Being transparent helps to create new partnerships. It also increases the sense of clarity, connection, and engagement of the team. Red Hat’s Open Decision-Making Framework mandates that new ideas have to be transparent, inclusive, and customer-centric. When collaborative leaders make decisions, they give priority to their customers’ needs. They work hard at building diverse teams that generate varied and innovative solutions. They always share their ideas and plans with their team and relevant counterparts.

Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, has said that “we believe that transparency is needed to create trust, and it’s also needed to create a dialogue.” Collaborative leaders break down walls and silos to build cross-functional relationships. These relationships are based on trust.

They also promote horizontal leadership: with this method, they influence others over whom they have absolutely no direct control to join them in a common cause. They maintain horizontal structures and encourage their employees to get involved. At Red Hat, leaders embrace similar methods for horizontal leadership, as outlined in the book “Influence wIthout Authority.

Leadership expert Simon Sinek introduced the idea of a “circle of safety": Using this method, leaders make a lot of effort to help their team and expect them to do the same. In Red Hat, this is often discussed as the golden rule (i.e., “treat others how you would like to be treated.”)

Making time and space for the team members to develop and grow not only helps them build their careers but also results in a more stable and productive team. It also allows the manager to move forward and leave a functioning team behind when the time comes. This is also known as the manager/team equilibrium. A collaborative leader will enable his team to grow and function. A functioning team will be more efficient and allow time and space for the team members to grow.

Leadership tip:

To build trust with my teams, I focus on creating objectives and key results. Common ground creates a situation where it is no longer “your” goals or “my” goals but rather “our” goals, which makes cooperation and collaboration successful. I also try to find the right people from the right teams who will drive the collaboration and generate the desired output. These people are multipliers in terms of influence and cooperation. Delegating the relevant tasks to the right people helps to move toward a more horizontal structure.

3. Collaborative leaders put individuals and ideas on equal footing

Charles Darwin said that “In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” With collaborative leadership, everyone is on an equal footing and working together to solve a problem, suggest new ideas, or run a project or initiative. The collaborative leader is not in control of the group but can guide and coordinate the group’s process and carry out actions to accomplish its goals. In Red Hat, leaders use objectives and key results (OKRs) to set their goals. Collaborative leaders are always open to suggestions and ideas from their team and recognize that brainstorming and different perspectives can bring unique insights.

Collaborative leaders focus on setting the stage, not necessarily performing on it.

As Harvard Business school professor Linda Hill puts it, collaborative leaders focus on setting the stage, not necessarily performing on it. They make space for others to pursue their talents and passions. And in doing that, they create a world in which people want to belong.

Collaborative leaders also promote interdependence - meaning that each individual depends on others and everyone brings something to the table. The power of interdependence is in knowing everyone’s strengths and using them together. The collaborative leader and their team members need to learn how to drop ideas or solutions when a stronger one is presented in the group. In day to day work, interdependent teams accomplish more in a shorter time.

Leadership tip:

As a collaborative leader, I emphasize the advantages of OKRs and interdependence.

For example, I teach my team how to prioritize tasks better when the objectives are clearly defined. I also show them how to achieve a better impact with their work and improve cross-team collaboration. I explain how the goals initiate meaningful conversations with the relevant peers and managers and eventually lead to better problem-solving.

4. Collaborative leaders use meritocracy as a key to attracting and retaining top talent

Effective leaders know well that hiring and promoting the best people for the job will lead to better results and a more cohesive workforce. An idea meritocracy values collaboration rather than competition and promotes teams rather than individuals. Collaborative leaders use the idea of meritocracy not only to encourage the best ideas and solutions but also to recruit in-demand talent.

At Red Hat, meritocracy goes hand in hand with diversity. Embracing a diverse group of people will encourage more varied and innovative ideas. Collaborative leaders need to ensure they’re breaking down the boundaries of gender, ethnicity, age, and any other similar factors.

Leadership tip:

As a collaborative leader, I am creating a diverse environment where good ideas and contributions drive influence, no matter from where they came. I escalate excellent ideas from anyone within my organization to the relevant parties and recognize the team members who contribute the most.

By adopting the behaviors of collaborative leaders, you can build trust and credibility with your teams and ultimately gain better outcomes. Always think about the “golden rule” when working with your team members: Treat others how you would like to be treated. This will assist you in building mutual respect and engagement.

Think about the big picture and your company goals as you strive to connect and collaborate with other teams in your organization. Make an effort to enable an environment where the best ideas win and reward people for their contribution. Embrace meritocracy and interdependence! Consider which of these methods will lead you and your team to more success.

[ Will your organization thrive in 2021? Learn the four priorities top CIOs are focusing on now. Download the HBR Analytic Services report: IT Leadership in the Next Normal. ]

Oded Ramraz serves as Senior Manager, Quality Engineering, Global for Red Hat. He has more than ten years of experience in Red Hat building tooling and infrastructure teams from scratch, establishing in-house quality standards and procedures, and using Red Hat Portfolio products. He has a strong passion for open source, collaboration, and innovation.

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