Three Ways Leaders Build and Promote Collaboration

Julie Jones

Lions are the natural leaders in their animal kingdom. They are powerful, ferocious, protective, and brave. It's unusual to discuss lions as collaborators. Yet, lions exhibit collaboration and teamwork for the benefit of the pack. Lions typically live in groups of 10 to 15 called a pride. Lionesses, female lions, do most of the hunting for the pride while the male lion protects and defends the group from predators. As a pride, they navigate the wilds of the kingdom to survive. 

The Lion King, a Disney movie, compares good and bad leadership and showcases the impact of collaboration. In the movie, Simba is a new cub born to Mufasa, the king of the lion kingdom and Sarabi, his wife.

The movie captures the collapse of the lion kingdom after Scar, a jealous and self-serving lion, kills his brother Mufasa, the wise, benevolent, and proud leader of the Pride and their home, the Pridelands. Scar is jealous that Simba, Mufasa’s cub, is being groomed to take over as king.  After Mufasa’s death, Scar makes Simba believe he was responsible for his father’s death. Simba runs away to live a life where he’s not responsible for others.

Once Scar has taken over leading the pride, his focus is on serving his interests in the short term, overhunting their homelands, creating a dark, deserted, and barren Pridelands. He ignores feedback and excludes members of the pride from decision making about their wellbeing. Scar strikes secret deals with the hyenas, the evil group living in the nearby elephant graveyard creating conflict.

Thankfully, a chance meeting between Simba and his childhood friend, Nala, wakes up the leader in Simba. Simba and Nala collaborate with Simba’s friends, Timon and Pumbaa, to overtake Scar and successfully regain the Pridelands. The story features the impact of collaboration, ownership, and love in defeating Scar, a weak and abusive leader who led through fear, lies, and self-interest.   Unfortunately, these same Scar behaviors can occur in the workplace, creating a toxic culture and derail collaboration whe

  • people are excluded
  • employee’s voices aren’t heard
  • there is no tolerance for difference
  • leaders serve their own interests
  • leaders aren’t trusted.

How can a leader foster collaboration and capture the collective experience of the group to achieve innovative ideas and solutions?

Leaders establish and earn trust.

Leaders who are committed to collaboration build an inclusive culture where members are welcomed and are comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas. These leaders are dedicated to the team or group and can put others’ needs ahead of their own.  They establish trust with others and are role models for character, connection, competence, courage, and consistent performance.  If the team or group doesn’t trust the leader, collaboration suffers.  Leader behavior matters and sets the stage for positive collaboration.

Collaborative leaders also practice active, advanced listening to build an inclusive culture.

Consider trying these activities to improve your active listening skills:

  • Listen to a conversation without saying anything. Follow the words, nonverbal gestures, and values shared between those in the conversation. What is different in your comprehension when you weren’t preparing to respond?
  • Ask for someone to observe or sit in during a challenging conversation. Immediately afterward, write down the primary message you heard. What did the other person hear? Do they match? Frequently, you can miss significant points in a conversation when it doesn’t agree with your opinion. What can you learn from their feedback?

Collaborative leaders also navigate common derailers to group performance.

Some examples of collaboration derailers include:
  • failing to resolve conflict
  • inability to balance time and quality outputs
  • not helping others process their emotions brought on by change
  • failing to address individual team member performance or behavior
  • lacking the courage to make challenging decisions when needed.

Navigating common derailers takes confidence, courage, and commitment. Use your voice productively to keep the group on track.

Consider trying these activities to build your confidence using your voice when the risk is low:
  • Make it a goal to share your opinion in different group meetings. Anticipate common discussion points in meetings, gather your thoughts, and write them down so you are more confident in your delivery.
  • Address a situation you are experiencing with a coworker with whom you have a good relationship. Can you share feedback and the impact on their actions on the team’s performance?  How did you do? What might you do differently?

A commitment to collaboration and team performance will yield stronger results than uncoordinated actions of individuals. Effective collaboration takes time and focused practice from leaders. Experience is a worthy teacher in addition to seeking advice from others, gathering feedback, self-reflection, and pre-planning for collaboration and projects. Your measuring stick for collaboration is progress, not perfection. Don’t be too hard on yourself as you learn and apply these skills.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • Did I do my best today to welcome and include others to a group?
  • How well did I listen, gather, and include diverse opinions from the group in our work?
  • Have I effectively addressed conflict or performance issues impacting the group?

Action and Reflection

Commit time this week to:

  • Seek input and opinions from at least three members of a group about a work topic. What did you learn? How can you apply this information?
  • Shadow a leader or project leader whose skills you admire in group discussion. Ask them questions about how they prepare and observe tools and tactics they use to guide discussions. Can you add these to your toolkit?

If navigating conflict is holding you back from your best collaboration, consider the Ruck-Shockey Learning Navigating Conflict course.  

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