The cues for being an effective collaborative leader can be confusing. How do you share decision-making power with multiple partners and lead with decisiveness at the same time?

If you follow the literature on effective collaborative leaders, you will find that effective leaders are welcoming, authentic listeners, intuitive, and focused. They analyze data frequently and keep groups on track. Sounds like an introvert, leading from behind.

Yet collaborative leaders are also described as extroverts; they are community organizers, always reaching out to resident and neighborhood groups, and engaging donors and the public to support the work. They orchestrate, negotiate, fundraise, and keep the vision alive.

Can any one person embody all these traits? Recently several Communitas clients have expressed an interest in learning more about collaborative leadership. It’s gotten me thinking about what is and isn’t from my own learning and experience. Consider these some crib notes from the field.

It is being comfortable with silence as you wait for your collaborative partners to come up with ideas in a meeting. It is not always waiting to act until you have consensus.

It is being ambitious and passionate for the collective movement you represent and reminding people what is at stake. It is not letting your personal or organizational agenda dominate the strategy to bring about change.

It is creating an inclusive and welcoming organization where new participants are empowered and heard. It is not continuously adding new people to the table without orientation and purpose.

It is getting some of your best ideas through dialogue and learning from others. It is not having to do all of your thinking in an open office or group environment (thanks to Susan Cain, Quiet, for that one).

It is openly sharing information. It is not conveying that everyone has a voice in a decision if, in reality, they don’t.

It is understanding the importance of data to communicate the value of your collective work. It is not letting data substitute for the spoken experiences of people’s lives.

Charismatic, quiet, forceful…Collaborative leadership can’t be anyone’s natural inclination 100% of the time. Yet what is exciting is to see people further defining the field as they build and manage collective efforts throughout the country.


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