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#BuildingCapacity in a Collaborative Culture – what traits are required and what are the resul

Here at ebbf, we are fortunate to have access to Valerie Davis who shared the findings of her PhD research, studying the specific ways in which leaders apply collaborative leadership and the consequences of that mindset in their companies. Earlier this year, she was awarded a Doctorate from Fielding Graduate University for her contributions to research in Human Development and she will be one of the speakers at

Launch of ebbf Research Group for Collaborative Leaders

During this ebbf online leaning session participants from Romania, Italy, Switzerland, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and United States explored the role of collaborative leaders.

It was a two-fold opportunity, firstly to hear Valerie Davis share her expertise in creating the space for leaders to gain a critical perspective on their goals, vision and effectiveness and secondly to begin the very exciting process of launching a Research

Group to grow these insights on what makes a powerful Collaborative Leader that will continue to evolve after:


Challenges Collaborative Leaders are working to overcome

Valerie Davis, showed us how she took the ‘Unified Framework of Power’ developed by Michael Karlberg (2005) to explore ways of thinking and relating to power within business and organisational leadership. She then conducted in-depth studies with twenty-five leaders, over four years, which turned out an unexpected factor in revealing what it takes to make a collaborative leader.

She discovered that from the twenty-five leaders, all effective and successful, came a redefinition of power, and uncommon view of what power is and of their own privileges and uses of power.

This means that we too need to further explore and fully understand what Collaborative Leadership is. Therefore, let’s start by considering what it is not. If you ever felt you needed to constrain, dominate, or have ‘power over’ other people to get things done, even in circumstances of urgency and crisis, it is very likely you were not using Collaborative Leadership. Situations where people are regarded as dispensible and a means to an ends will often end up mimicking, in one way or another, abuses of power. Right. But what to do?

Well, there is mutualistic power. In this mindset, you have power with other people. Here you are using your sense of leadership to develop peoples’ capability. Great. We are back to #BuildingCapacity. With mutualistic power, you are working with influence. Your inner definition of power means you are able to influence rather than having to dominate or constrain other people. And it likely you also know how this kind power with other people get generated: You possess a genuine belief in peoples innate capacity. Their capacity is within, and, as a capable leader yourself, you draw it out of them. You lead by inspiring, releasing their capacity, and role modelling. It is very likely all ebbf members will relate to and have great stories to tell as capable leaders, themselves.

But in terms of Collaborative Power we have a new pattern of thinking emerging and it is one where there is still much to learn and innovate.


New principles for Collaborative Leadership

Valerie Davis, took time to highlight what the collaborative leaders in her study are doing that distinguishes them from the prevailing norms of mutualistic and dominant leadership styles. It was quite fascinating, not least because these CEO’s are leading highly successful global complex organisations and themselves working with, in her own words, “massive responsibility”. Therefore, is not simply an idealistic cause but a characteristic of the evolutionary edge of business that Collaborative Leadership supports.

Trust is the absolute foundation. There is no room for blame in a culture that is built on trust. There is an emphasis on ownership rather than a delegation of tasks. They offer strategic direction without telling anyone what to do. Collaborative Leaders create environments for work to take place and may not physically be in the space having delegated ownership for large areas of the business to people, who self-manage.

They respect hierarchy but it is not a hierarchy of themselves over others that they invest in. Rather, Collaborative Leaders see themselves carrying responsibility with a wider scope. In this sense, they invert their status with a willingness to make their self-interest as equal to, or lower than, the interests of the whole. They truly care about others. They see themselves as mentors, walking with, believing in, and elevating others.

Participatory decision is used where it is serves the organisation best: particularly where creativity, progress and innovation is called for. Collaborative Leaders recognize not all topics need to be collaborative. Sometimes this will mean ensuring that only the right people are contributing. Sometimes it will mean only collaborating on the right things. Valerie Davis, described one scenario, in which the CEO stripped back the collaborative culture he had come in to manage because it had become dysfunctional. The result was it freed his team to work at increased and new levels of complexity.


How Collaborative Leaders are catalysing dialogue

Collaborative Leaders focus on understandings. Everyone has an opportunity to speak until the consensus is that the topic has been fully explored on all sides. Collaborative Leadership is very deliberate. These leaders follow the Aha! moments. As decisions emerge, and before finally taken, one CEO was noted by Valerie Davis, to ask: “If anyone disagrees – can you live with it?”, which she thought characterised the mode of thinking collaborative leaders demonstrate.

They use Reflection regularly. Rather than focusing on the past in order to determine the future, Collaborative Leaders focus on the processes that are working well, and set to eliminate what is less effective while concentrating on what is building the future. They ask ‘Why is this growing?’ Collaborative Leaders focus on creating present environments. They work for the overview, transforming the organisation to make it alive.

Collaborative Leaders also have an abundance mindset. They do not operate from a worldview of scarcity. Abundance and openess does generate collaboration. They talk about their lives very positively. They reveal themselves as happy people who take also pride in providing stability to the organisational life of their teams.

They follow a charter which defines their success to include social audits. Retail is, for example, not just their primary goal. They are willing to make a stand for priniciples. This is true even when they are dealing with some of the biggest, most prominent global brands, and the stakes are high.

These Collaborative Leaders, in Valerie’s research, demonstrated that they meet challenges, and encouraged their teams, by a willingness to undertake major collaborations through a strategy of learning internally to figuring out how to translate that learning into new terms with client relationships and construction of final results with products or services. Their teams were often surprised by the fact that the challenge to raise standards or change the social ethical base of operations did not destroy their business but were warmly greeted by engagement: “Thank you so much for asking us, we never get asked these questions.”


Exploring this new terrain of Collaborative Leadership

In our disccussion we were invited to recognise that when we talk of Collaborative Leadership what we are actually discussing is mindset. Valerie Davis said that her research gives evidence of the extent “Beliefs are central to how people choose their behaviour”. She went on to say that “Collaborative Leadership is far harder than the old models of leadership”, adding, “I saw how these people had courage” because “They were willing to go against the grain”, when necessary.

One participant made the observation that it is one thing to delegate ownership over tasks as agency for transformation but there is also a very practical side to ownership that must be taken into account. He felt that a precondition for him would include having a stake in the profit-sharing of the company and that Collaborative Leadership #BuildingCapacity would need to give him a sense: “that the one creating value also has a financial stake in the outcome”.

Anyone wanting to get involved in further exploring and applying these insights from Valerie Davis recent research is invited to sign up:

What do you think needs to happen in a collaborative culture for people to access and develop their potential?

Valerie is a respected and published leader coach who specializes in working with senior level executives. Through leadership development and executive coaching at the individual, team and organizational level, Valerie delivers transformational change. Her experience in senior leadership roles in global corporations allows her an informed perspective on the challenges leaders face.

Valerie has founded two successful leadership development companies and is President of Lysistrata Inc., a firm specializing in executive and team coaching, and leadership coach education. She also works with a number of international consulting consortia and currently serves in the role of Head Coach at the Niagara Institute for International Studies.

In addition to private executive clients, a few of her satisfied corporate clients include American Express, BA International, Bank of Canada, Dell, Government of Canada, ING, Kommunikations-Kolleg AG, Microsoft, Loblaw Companies, Ontario Power Authority, Ontario Power Generation, Ontario Public Service, Park Bank, Procor Ltd., Raytheon, Thomson, and Torstar.

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