As leaders we can often feel constrained. We may feel limited by those we work with, those who lead us, and those we lead. With limited authority beyond our direct team or department, we feel limited in influencing collaboration with those we have no direct control over. When we are constrained in this way we feel frustrated in what seems like circular inefficiency in trying to influence far too many people, and we feel like giving up.
The reasons for this are many. We may lack confidence in our peers to deliver ultimate benefits. We may lack relationships with other leaders outside of our own area to feel able to approach them on a specific idea that we have. We may have had a bad past experience trying to work more broadly outside of our team and have been met with constant resistance, obstacles and negativity that wear us down and we can’t keep going. Or perhaps we simply don’t have the time.
Janine Garner in her book It’s Who You Know: How a network of 12 key people can fast-track your success says “It is imperative today to join forces with others, utilise your collective skills and experience, add new connections and insights, and communicate the support you need to step into your future.” If we don’t work collaboratively with those outside of our own team and more broadly, we and the organisations we work for will never optimise their full potential. A 2014 study by Stanford University showed that participants who worked collaboratively “stuck at their task 64% longer than their solitary peers, and reported higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels and a higher success rate.”
So what do we need to do to be more collaborative and extend our leadership reach?
Trust and let go!
Firstly we need to have the time to be able to focus on what is important. We need to delegate effectively and avoid micromanagement. We need to focus on working on the business rather than in it. As leaders we lead people for a reason, primarily because we can’t do it all ourselves. We need to support others to do their job to the best of their ability. Empowering and supporting is critical to organisational growth and freeing yourself to focus on what is important at a higher strategic level. Your ability to let go and live with the discomfort that your team may do it differently to the way you would, or they may not always achieve the desired result is critical to their own development and the organisational collective learning. Remember that five plus five equals ten, but so does six and four or seven and three. Trusting people to do things their way, but ultimately achieve the right outcome is uncomfortable for most leaders. Building trust with those you lead will help to lessen the discomfort of stepping away and letting them do their job. By stepping away you generate more time to work on broadening your reach.
Now that you have some more time, take an active interest to develop and strengthening the relationships you have with your peers, colleagues and senior leaders both in and outside of your department. Part of your working week should be dedicated to deepening these relationships so that we build respect, credibility and trust, which in turn increases our ability to influence. In a study completed by Amy Cuddy and colleagues, they concluded that “when we respect someone, we want to cooperate and affiliate ourselves with him or her…”. It takes time and commitment to build strong relationships but the payback is well worth the investment.
Wherever we work we have upstream and downstream in/outputs and because of this there is always an opportunity to look at how we impact others and how they impact us. Nobody, anywhere works in isolation or a vacuum. Asking questions like “how does the work I do impact downstream?” or “what could be done upstream to make things faster/easier?” helps to broaden your thinking. Take these findings to bring things together to create something bigger or create synergies that could be built into something more efficient, ambitious or illustrious.
The potential within collaboration is enormous, we just need to start looking.