Powering Collaborations through Leadership

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November 9, 2016

Leadership. A concept we like to stress at Strategy Arts is that leadership is by permission, management is by position. When considering the leadership required to make collaborations work; this is true more than ever. Leadership of collaborations is multifaceted, requiring leaders to stay engaged and attentive with members of their own teams and with those of other organizations.

Leaders of collaborating organizations and those directly leading cross-organizational teams must pay attention to important behaviors that underpin the success of collaborations. Their absence can impede or even cause collaborative efforts to fail. The specifics of leadership responsibilities will differ based on the size of the collaboration and the level of staffing applied, but collaborative leadership behaviors are always important. They are as important to the smallest collaboration between two parties as they are to complicated, multi-sector collective impact initiatives.

Lead by Examplewordle

Leadership by example is a must. It is important to show team members and other collaboration participants that they are walking the walk that they talk. Leaders must demonstrate that the collaboration is important to their own organizations and that they will give it the same attention they give to their own initiatives. This starts with absolute clarity about what each organization will contribute and what they expect from others. It is exemplified by enthusiastic support for the importance of the program at each opportunity to interact with internal and external stakeholders. This will ensure participating organizations stay aligned and engaged, and that team members feel recognized and supported throughout the life of the collaboration.

Demonstrate Collaboration

Leaders must show that collaboration works. They must be ready to listen and learn with their partners and ready to change course when required. Leaders must create the environment where collaborating team members are free build the trust they need with each other. This will increase the engagement that fosters sustained action. By their very nature, collaborative actions require some compromise by all parties. Emphasizing or insisting that the priorities of one organization are more important than those of others in a collaboration can have devastating effects. These non-collaborative behaviors reduce the value of other team members and risk the success of the collaboration. The agreed focus of the collaboration can be closer to the mission of one partner organization, but it must be done with transparency and finesse. This will support shared ownership for the goals of the collective

Communicate with Leaders of Other Partners Frequently

Too often in collaborative efforts communication is lacking between senior leaders of the partner organizations.  Once collaborative agreements are in place leaders often, and for good reason, leave implementation to others. It is important, however, to check in occasionally, just as it would be for internal projects and programs. Making sure things are on track from everyone’s perspective is an important job for the lead partner, but it’s the role of all leaders from all participating organizations to keep tabs on the collaboration. Checking in, regardless of who initiates it, helps keep everyone engaged and makes sure small items don’t become big issues.

Address Issues Quickly When They Come Up

If strong governance is established at the beginning of a collaborative effort, those who are staffing collaborations will know how to escalate concerns when issues emerge. When this happens, it is important that leadership assess the situation quickly and address the problems or issues that have been identified. By doing so they will avoid slowing the collaborative efforts they have worked so hard to establish and they will empower the participants to keep moving on the things they can control.


When leaders of each organization, and those directly involved in leading the collaboration, each pay attention to the behaviors discussed the leadership load can be manageable and shared. This approach will take a more intensive effort that is often applied to collaborations. But in the end, it will empower and sustain collaborative efforts and, overall, reduce the amount of time that leaders must commit to successfully collaborate with others.