René Carayol – Collaboration is the New Leadership

Whilst writing my latest book, Spike, ‘game-changing’ elections took place in both the UK and the USA. It was becoming obvious to me that our enduring model for society based on mutual trust and respect was perhaps in danger of falling apart.

This is not just because of the way technology has enabled us to spend ever more time in isolation with only our gadgets for company, but also the rise of the cult of the individual and the invidious growth of ‘me and my own’ as a mindset.

Spike is part of the “Strengths Based Revolution”, an uplifting shift away from the fixation with developing our weaknesses but celebrating and capitalising upon our strengths.

The whole Spike philosophy demands the humility to be honest about your limitations and seek out those with the complementary strengths (Spikes) that will bring the best out of you and them. This is the new collaboration, built on positive interdependency. The Spike philosophy works wonders for every individual’s confidence, self-esteem and performance, but it is even more powerful when addressing the construction of teams.

The days of the boss inadvertently appointing their direct reports in ‘their image’ should be long gone, but unfortunately, there are still far too many instances where they not only have similar character traits, but also look quite similar as well.

Business has become far too fast moving and markets are so much more unforgiving that diverse viewpoints and experiences within all teams have become a prerequisite for sustainable success.

Absolutely everybody today understands why collaboration is a necessary part of every high performing culture. Sports teams have practised this for many years now, and no successful sports teams ever achieved success without true collaboration being at the heart of all they do.

The logic is unimpeachable, but not many businesses ever appear to really master this. Why?

It is important first to understand the tangible benefits of having a truly collaborative culture:

  • Better Decision making
  • Better use of resources
  • Better outcomes for customers

No one can argue with the above – so why don’t we see more of this?

For better or for worse

Let’s start with the obvious, ‘turf’. So many of us have fought so hard to move up the corporate ladder and eventually get into a position where we can actually ‘call the shots’ and make the decisions that matter. Having got there, it’s not easy to relinquish the desire to continue to make and take decisions on your own, no matter what the corporate cost. This can lead to the reinforcement of ‘silo’ thinking and behaviour. Far too much energy being drained on internal rivalries and unproductive competitive behaviours.

When two elephant’s fight it’s the grass that suffers.

Secondly, most organisations still judge and measure their leaders on their individual results. This tends to kill any spirit of teamwork or collaboration. Sports teams have always been measured on how well the team does, no matter how many brilliant individuals they may have.

Great players don’t win trophies, great teams win trophies.

Collaboration must become one of the key threads of the culture. Therefore, new recruits need to be team players who embrace collaboration by both attitude and behaviour. There is still a tendency to recruit or appoint the ‘super star’ who always delivers despite being a self-serving ‘lone wolf’. This must change for true collaboration to work.

By building teams with all members having the opportunity to capitalise upon their differing Spikes, this encourages collaboration as nothing is best done alone anymore. The weaving in and out of each-others talents can be very powerful and energising for all involved.

The Chief Executive and the top leadership team in the business must exemplify the traits of a strong interdependent team. They must be seen to be truly committed to each other’s success. They are the most influential positive role models.

Light the blue touch paper but stay close

It is instructive to look at the recent high profile corporate failure at Uber, it was clear that it celebrated and thrived on the cult of the individual. It was inevitable that for Uber to continue to succeed, it needed a very different type of leader than the mercurial Travis Kalanick. He brought drive, ambition and forcefulness that left its strong imprint on the culture and values of Uber. Without the determination, drive and massive self-belief that Travis clearly brought, perhaps Uber would not be the most highly valued start up in history.

The now leaked ‘values’ of Uber included Always be hustlin’, Let Builders Build, Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping, and Principled Confrontation, these alongside the perhaps not mentioned but manifestly real, the resilience to never back down no matter what the odds, this goes against everything that collaboration stands for.

Despite the media out roar, and the many resignations, the sexual harassment claims and the loud complaints of the Uber drivers on being treated unfairly, the leadership remained ‘tone deaf’.

The lack of diversity at Uber was now coming home to roost. Group think soon led to bad group behaviour.

All for one, and one for all

Airbnb are a very different successful Silicon Valley Start-up, they have taken a contrasting approach.

Firstly, and insightfully, they have a disproportionate number of women at the top of the organisation. Whilst this is admirable for many different reasons, it is cleverly and perhaps uniquely a formidable driver of collaboration.

All historical research provides hard evidence that we tend to breed our men to be dominant, single minded and to back their judgements nearly without consultation. Whilst there might be a little bit of exaggeration to this, there is far less exaggeration when we take a close look at how women tend to lead.

It is so much more about consensus, thinking much more about linking than ranking.  The ability to rise to the top of the organisation without being fixated upon the power of office but far more about the privilege of leadership. Again, perhaps reflecting the traditional methods of socialisation for girls just about everywhere.

Secondly, Airbnb talk a lot about ‘belonging’. This is underpinned by not only its commitment to its mission and values, but also to its unrelenting belief in honest, two-way communication. They have instituted bi-weekly ‘world calls’, where all of their employees (called “airfam”) from all over the world join on live stream. They also have many local two-way communication informal meetings which encourage both transparency and vitally, lubricates a collaborative culture.

There was a time when the business initiative fitted nicely and neatly into a function or a business unit e.g. “finance can deal with that, or it’s a marketing issue”.

Nowadays, it is very rare that the mission critical initiative or burning problem fits neatly anywhere. It is far more likely to be cross functional and cross business. And therefore, demands some support from Operations, with some guidance from Finance, and maybe the HR function needs to get involved.

How can this work without collaboration being at the heart of the company?

Well it just can’t!

Working together, winning together

Leadership has always been difficult, and so it should remain. We are generally handsomely compensated for being the leader, this can be in monetary terms but it is far over shadowed by the special status we are given. Leaders have the ability to change people’s lives and their livelihoods for the better- this is a huge privilege.

There was a time when the people served the leader, increasingly today, the leader must serve the people.

Traditional cultures tended to ‘challenge down’ and ‘support up’, progressive and successful businesses today now practise the opposite, they ‘challenge up’ and ‘support down’.

Not many businesses have yet figured this out, let alone practice it, until they do collaboration will never become the natural order of things at work.

Whilst collaboration adds the benefits we have discussed, it rarely happens without enlightened leadership like at Airbnb to make it today’s reality.

We need to appoint a new set of leaders that think less about themselves and much more about the good of the organisation and their people. The future of leadership looks increasingly like a decisive argument for much more women at the top of organisations.

They tend to feel truly committed to each-others success rather than obsessed with their own personal success.

Let’s be clear, partnering without reciprocal benefits is no panacea. It does not always work. You have to mean it, and really want it and work at it. This is so much easier and when there is an obvious interdependency which the Spike philosophy delivers by calling on each-others standout strengths (Spikes) and fuels healthy and sustainable collaboration.

Find out more about René here.