Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beyond Community to Collaboration and Collective Intelligence

I have previously written on the importance of building community in our team environments. Several posts have focused on community building. For example:

Building Community - Trust Begets Trust
Cites the work of Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge where the authors identify trust as a foundation for community and teamwork.

Building Community: Thank you as a way of leading
Proposes gratitude as an easy and remarkably powerful step in building the type of community that is essential for successful teams.

Building Community with Giving
Suggests that giving and service are key ingredients to building community across teams.

I stand by my previous work. Community is important but as a friend of mine suggests, simple community, as described in my previous posts, is "bumper sticker" material. The real objective for teams is to move beyond community to collaboration, collective action, and collective intelligence . Community might be part of the foundation but your real intent is to lead your team to great collaborative accomplishment and creativity beyond the capabilities of a single individual.

In future weeks, I plan to focus my attention on collaboration, collective action, and collective intelligence. I intend to share the findings of my journey with my fellow quiet leaders.

One of the stops in my journey this past week validated the importance of collaboration for the modern organization and the leadership that is required in order to foster collaboration. Linda Dunkel and Christina Arena in the white paper, Leading in the Collaborative Organization describe the importance,

Collaborative leadership is at the center of an important shift in a business world increasingly moving away from autocratic leadership to more decentralized models.....collaboration is an essential tool for the new kind of business leader — the facilitative leader — one who engages relevant stakeholders in solving problems collaboratively and works to build a more collaborative culture in his or her organization or community.

In their work, Dunkel and Arena also dispel the common myths of collaboration. They refute four myths:

  1. Collaboration slows everything down. They maintain that the prework and consensus that naturally accompanies collaboration reduces churn and roadblocks and will speed innovation and time to market.
  2. Collaboration makes leaders soft or weak. Collaborative leaders actually share power and recognize that the best decisions are "often made with the input of others with specialized expertise."
  3. Collaboration cannot be taught. "If people embrace the underlying assumption that collaboration is valuable and desirable, then the behaviors and methods for collaborating can be taught."
  4. Collaboration can't be sustained. The authors recognize several high and sustained growth companies that cultivate collaboration. Companies like IKEA, Starbucks, and Eileen Fisher are recognized for the collaborative environments.
I'd like to reuse a great quotation from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that speaks to the relationship between collaborative action and leadership,
As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.... When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!
I hope that Lead Quietly readers will collaborate with me on this study. Please comment and contribute.

Thanks for reading. Please collaborate and lead quietly.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Balance like Obama - A Lesson in Leadership Balance

I don't intend to use this blog as a political platform. My mission has not changed since my first post when I wrote, "I am writing this blog to start conversation and sustain study about quiet leadership."

Nevertheless, I was enlightened this past week as I listened to Barack Obama talk about balance in his book The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

Balance is one of the key elements of quiet leadership. As I write in Keep it balanced, in 3D:
The concept of Quiet Leadership includes the the notion of "balance." My vision of balance is multifaceted where balance applies to many elements of life, work and leadership. This includes, for example, the balance of work and personal life, the balance between individual needs and organizational needs, the balance of opinions that need to occur within teams, the balance required to moderate disagreement. A quiet leader strives to keep it balanced.

In his book, Obama describes balance in the same light.
Search the book and you will find 15 references to "balance." Often his discussion describes the challenge of "finding the right balance." He describes that ordinary citizens are "waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism." He talks about finding the right balance between national security and individual rights. He recognizes that it is not easy, "finding the right balance in our competing values is difficult."

Perhaps the most insightful statement about balance and leadership is the leadership action of "maintaining within himself the balance between two contradictory ideas that we must talk and reach for common understandings."

On the other extreme,the opposite of balance, is absolutism. Obama cites the negative impact that absolutism, i.e. a lack of balance, has had in our current politics. Absolutism suggests that values combined with power, don't allow balance or compromise. Balance is lost when "ideological minorities seek to impose their own version of absolute truth"

What is balance? Somewhere between balance and absolutism is the place where both passion and reason exist. As a leader, you need to make sure that you hear and recognize the passion of the people around you and encourage reason in order to foster the moderation that can bring balance to your team's actions.

I find that the words of Khalil Gibran in The Prophet nicely emphasize the importance of balance between passion and reason.
Your reason and your passion are the rudder.. and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to it’s own destruction.

Once you recognize this place where passion and reason mingle, the real work begins for leaders. Often there is no easy answer. Balance is hard but the first step is to recognize the importance of balance. This may be the primary principle that I gleaned from Obama's book. That is not a political statement.

Comments are always welcome.

Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly.