Leadership in dynamic times requires different skills than required in the past. One critical area of leadership focus is cooperation and collaboration.
For many leaders, competition has been the primary driver. The best leaders win, and they win regularly. That means they beat others.
Collaboration, however, hasn’t been rewarded in the same light. Instead, we hear phrases like “crushing your competition.” To those leaders, competition probably sounds like something “losers” want, not what leaders do.
I’d like to make the case that as the world becomes more complex, the best leaders will balance winning with collaboration.
Innately collaborative leaders welcome collaboration in a quest for novel solutions that serve the highest outcome for all involved. One of the hallmarks of effective collaboration is it happens with leaders at all levels across for-profit, nonprofit, government and civic organizations.
I’d like to use Columbus, Ohio, as a case study to illustrate how leaders across sectors can work together to accomplish city and regional goals. Based on my personal experience with local leaders, it is the combination of the following structures, cultures and behaviors that creates long-term outcomes.
1. Seek input from multiple perspectives, and value diverse points of view.
Leaders must be willing to consider perspectives other than their own, and they must have a process to synthesize these perspectives to create a more robust and inclusive solution. A leader should be able to build on different viewpoints and create an environment that promotes trust and reciprocity. All involved must feel heard and respected, even when their approach is not the ultimate choice.
A chief information officer I once interviewed here in Columbus started a CIO forum in 1997 with eight fellow CIOs. By 2017, it had 150 CIOs from local companies, nonprofits and municipalities. Under his leadership, CIOs from competing companies worked together to address issues facing the community. The experience-sharing improves everyone’s awareness of issues and broadens potential solutions. They also work together to address issues like CIO succession.
2. Create solutions to complex problems by creating new approaches and creative alliances and pulling together constituents in novel ways.
As the business challenges the community faces evolve, leaders need to pull together to build creative solutions that support broader community success. The problems that traverse specific organizations need to be solved by cross-sector groups with a common mission to elevate all organizations in the community and to create a healthy ecosystem.
To illustrate, the CIO forum referenced in my above example recently hosted a one-day conference, inviting professionals in IT, HR and the vendor community to address the talent shortage in IT. The conference brought to light some experiments in talent development and, even more importantly, served as a call to action, enabling people committed to solving this problem to meet others with similar goals.
3. Understand that in a time of extreme change, input from multiple stakeholders with diverse points of view is required.
Set up structures to pull people together from across each sector of the market. Most importantly, identify a person accountable for problem-solving. Create a culture of doing what is right for the larger community.
Here in Columbus, The Columbus Partnership is an illustration of how the community created a structure and culture of collaboration. The nonprofit is comprised of CEOs and thought leaders from Columbus’s leading businesses and institutions. It strategically considers how to position our community for the future.
From starting out with eight CEOs in its early years, it has now evolved to its current membership base of over 65, providing broad representation from across Columbus’s diverse business community. The group convenes regularly to tackle city and regional problems. They identified the “Columbus Way” as the practice of bringing leaders from across the community to solve problems and improve the community.
If you question if collaboration is better than competition, the data provide a compelling case for a balance of both. As a result of collaborative leadership, Columbus was named the 2015 Global Intelligent Community of the Year by the Intelligent Community Forum. In 2016, Columbus competed against 77 cities nationwide to win the Smart City Challenge, winning $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million from Vulcan, Inc., a Paul G. Allen Company. It went on to raise about $500 million in additional investments.
Cooperation and collaboration happen when a community creates an aligned infrastructure and culture to support it. This is made possible because executives actively tackle the biggest challenges facing the city. There are many other examples beyond Columbus, and together, their activities are creating thriving communities that are equipped to succeed well into the next century.
By Maureen Metcalf
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