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Leadership Through Collaboration and Listening

By Marsha L. Clark


When you’re invested in both results and relationships, collaboration is an effective approach. Bear in mind that collaboration is more than simply convening people for a meeting. Knowing how to truly collaborate is an important leadership competency. To work together on an activity means each person comes to the table with a point of view, perspective, functional knowledge, or research. No single individual has the complete or ideal answer.


Rather, it will be created together.


Merging perspectives and integrating ideas is progress in action. There is no greater act of inclusion than respecting the diversity of experience, giving everyone’s thoughts and ideas the weight and consideration they deserve. And once those ideas are out on the table, you can begin to integrate them into new solutions. When you’re creating a new product or service, hearing from everyone will pay dividends in helping to capture the big picture.


A collaborative approach also serves to gain commitment from all the players. Once someone has made a contribution, they are more invested in seeing it through to completion. When people have skin in the game, they want to help make it work.


Like all other methods employed by great leaders, collaboration requires skill. To ensure your efforts at collaborating with others don’t break down, work on the following:


Ability to listen. Employ a three-level listening model to finely hone your listening skills


  • Level 1: Listen with your ears. This means you can repeat back what you just heard. It’s the lowest level of listening, yet it still requires you to be present and engaged, rather being distracted by splitting your focus on other tasks or shutting the speaker out due to your own internal biases.

  • Level 2: Listen with your head. After accomplishing Level 1 listening, process and analyze what you’ve heard. Build upon it and expand your thinking.

  • Level 3: Listen with your heart. This requires a bit of introspection and acknowledgement of your unconscious bias. We often draw conclusions about another person in the first few moments upon meeting them, and then proceed to interpret all further interaction to fit within that uninformed impression. Listening with your heart challenges that bias, and opens you up to truly accepting and considering what others are saying.

Nonthreatening confrontation. The most valuable and influential position to employ in a meeting is one of balance. Your more effective approach will reflect a balance of advocacy of your position and inquiry into the position and opinion of others. Advocacy includes confidently sharing your point of view, research, and conclusions. The balance is then spending time in inquiry, asking others to share their thoughts, which allows you to merge perspectives and integrate solutions. If you are listening on all three levels, you’ll also want to probe and clarify.


Analyzing input and addressing concerns. Before your collaborative meeting, take the time to identify your decision criteria and share it with the group. This might include things like cost, available resources, timelines, legal requirements, or brand considerations. As ideas and information are shared, you can assess them against the criteria to ensure the best chance at delivering a successful, mutually satisfying solution.


Facilitating. Collaboration is both a mindset and a process. From the process perspective, you want to make certain that you hear from everyone and keep things moving in an organized manner. Create an agenda that includes the meeting objectives, detailed timeline, and decision criteria. Record all decisions, questions, and follow-up items. Ensure participants are engaged and involved. And finally, recap important parts of the meeting and clarify next steps.


When you establish a collaborative culture, you’ll find that teams and individuals become more aligned with a renewed curiosity and respect for others’ perspectives. Not only will it enhance problem solving for your organization, it will boost morale and team dynamics and communication.


To learn more about leadership and organizational strategies from award-winning executive coach Marsha L. Clark, her book Embracing Your Power: A Woman’s Path to Authentic Leadership and Meaningful Relationships is available for purchase now.

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