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LEADERSHIP IS A PROCESS OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE, WHICH MAXIMISES THE EFFORTS OF OTHERS TOWARDS THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A SHARED GOAL.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Here is some interesting perspective from Morten T. Hansen, the author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. He is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley, School of Information.
'Recently, President Obama strode into the White House Briefing Room, surprising the reporters there. He had just held the first of a new string of meetings — a bipartisan gathering involving congressional leaders from both parties...This is a good effort, but it comes a year late. Obama came into office promising to end the politics of division. A year later, it seems we have more division and less collaboration.
It's a lesson in how not to collaborate, and it applies equally to business leaders. All leaders and managers can learn from five key mistakes made by the White House:
1. Wrong language by the rank-and-file.
President Obama says many of the right things about the need for bipartisanship and collaboration. But his team does not follow suit. Rahm Emanuel, most notably, is often making news with heated rhetoric, most recently when he called people with whom he disagreed "F—ing retarded" (and they were Democrats!). As I argue in my book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, how leaders talk matters a great deal. In a fascinating experiment at Stanford University, students played a game where they chose to cooperate or compete. When it was called "the community game," given the impression that it was about cooperation, 70 percent chose to cooperate. When it was called "the Wall Street game," suggesting market competition, 70 percent chose to compete — the exact opposite! Rhetoric shapes behaviours.
To get people motivated to collaborate, you need to talk the language of collaboration, all the time. And you can't extol it one day and then say something differently another day. The White House can learn from the example of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who came into office callinghis opponents "girlie men." That rhetoric led to even more division, but once he cooled the rhetoric, he was able to get a lot done by collaborating.
2. Confusing delegation with collaboration.
President Obama pledged to work with Congress; but he has been criticized for delegating major legislative initiatives like health care reform to the Democratic leaders in Congress. What's the difference? Delegation means letting other people do the work, with little oversight. Collaboration, in contrast, means that leaders are actively involved — they sit around the table, sweat through difficult discussions, given and take, and forge solutions. President Obama's relatively recent hands-on involvement with health care legislation is a good sign that he is rectifying this particular mistake.
3. No meaningful outreach to opponents.
The Republicans have complained that they haven't really been listened to during last year's legislative meetings on health care. It's of course hard for outsiders to judge what really went on, but this brings up a vital point: real collaboration means bringing in all parties — including those who disagree with you — to the debate early in the process, and not later when many decisions have already been made.
To collaborate well, you must involve all parties in a meaningful way: invite people to propose divergent views and promote vigorous debate (some call this constructive conflict). Let robust ideas and solutions get a fair chance, even if you may not like them much.
4. No hard compromises. In 2006, when Governor Schwarzenegger turned collaborative, he and the democratic leaders in California passed major legislation because they made some tough compromises. Consider the increase in minimum wage to $8 per hour. The Governor compromised by agreeing to an increase (which he had twice vetoed before), while the Democrats compromised by dropping their insistence on an automatic adjustment pegged to inflation. They both made painful choices.
Good collaborative leaders have learned the art of compromising.
5. Lack of a compelling common goal. In 1961, President Kennedy pronounced his famous "man on the moon" goal. It was a great goal because it unified. People set aside their own agendas and ideologies. For example, Wernher von Braun, a towering figure in space exploration, set aside his agency's cherished method to get to the moon ("earth orbit") and embraced a rival's method ("lunar orbit"), precisely so that they could reach Kennedy's goal in time.
Has President Obama articulated a "moon goal" for healthcare that can unite all parties, even many Republicans? Great collaborative leaders craft such common goals, and they lead people like von Braun (or the Republican leader John A. Boehner....) to set aside own agendas in pursuit of a compelling unifying goal.
Had President Obama and his team avoided these five missteps and practiced the five corresponding good collaborative practices, things may have looked differently today. But there is still time to practice good collaboration, for all of us.
Examine your own organisation: do you have compelling unifying goals that unite people from different units? As a leader, do you set a tone that invites collaboration? Do you foster real debate early in the process, reach out to those who disagree, and stay hands-on in major initiatives? And — when the process stalls — have you been willing to make hard choices?'