How to Become a Collaborative Leader

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The expression “it’s lonely at the top” is being reinvented, as collaboration becomes the priority for certain workplace leaders.

The key to being a successful leader is to work together and communicate effectively, says Kelli Baxter, co-founder of Value Generation Partners, a Naples-based firm that offers consulting, coaching, assessment and training services. As a result, the traditional single-leader model is being replaced by a strong collaborative leader.

“Traditional leaders use their power as a singular force. They stick to certain roles and responsibilities, and tend to hoard information,” says Baxter. “However, collaborative leaders understand that power is the most powerful when it is used by a team. Once more people start using the leadership power, you begin to have culture of inclusion and creativity.”

Baxter identified three must-dos for business owners and executives seeking to become more collaborative leaders.

1. COMMUNICATE EXPECTATIONS Collaborative leaders not only communicate the tasks they need their employees to complete, but also communicate their expectations. Doing so requires them to share knowledge of the business and ideas for its growth, which will, in turn, encourage teamwork and innovation among their employees.

“I learned early on that communication is key to being an effective leader,” says Baxter. “It is all about sharing—not hoarding—information.”

2. SET AN EXAMPLE Once they set an expectation, good collaborative leaders model how it will be implemented. If you are asking others to behave a certain way or do a particular task, you must first do it yourself, Baxter says.

“Setting the example you want others to follow will help your employees model your behavior; it will become the new norm,” says Baxter. “And it will build an amazingly strong team.”

3. CREATE AN INCLUSIVE CULTURE With expectations established and examples set, leaders can focus on creating a culture in which everyone feels included and knows what is going on within the company. Baxter emphasizes that leaders need to generate creative ideas while keeping productive levels high. They must also foster team relationships by building trust and accountability.

Leaders shouldn’t view themselves as superior, but among equals, says Paul Fioravanti, managing director of QORVAL, a Naples-based business consulting firm. “In order for that to be successful, emotions, titles and egos need to be put away and you need to work together to focus on what is best for business,” he says.

The greatest challenge, Fioravanti says, is balancing what is best for the organization, stakeholders and customers, amid uncertainty. Leaders often must make decisions with incomplete information, and being a collaborative leader doesn’t mean making everybody happy.

“The fastest path to failure for a leader is to try to do and be everything, please everyone and have everyone like them all the time,” Fioravanti says. “And being a leader often means making very difficult choices. However, if you are able to become a ‘we’ and not ‘I,’ it will make those decisions much easier.”


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