Two leadership paradigms were preeminent during the 20th century — the power paradigm and the people paradigm.
The power paradigm (hierarchy) was created in the early 1900s as part of the industrial revolution, and is based on power and control and the belief people needed to be incented or punished to get them to work hard.
The people paradigm, formulated by Doug McGregor of MIT in 1960, recognized people want to work hard, are social beings, work best in teams, and are responsible. With the emergence of the digital age, these paradigms paved the way for the fourth evolution of leadership: collaboration.
Enter Dr. Edward Marshall, adjunct professor of management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Pratt School of Engineering. Marshall is the author of Leadership’s 4th Evolution: Collaboration for the 21st Century, a comprehensive guidebook to understanding a new theory of collaboration as well as how to implement it.
Marshall points out that collaborative leadership is not about power and control, telling people what to do and then finding them doing something wrong.
Eight strategies for collaborative leadership
Collaborative leadership is about building trust-based relationships, ensuring psychological safety, and giving people ownership over the organization’s values, vision, mission, and strategy, as well as their own jobs. It is about facilitating, engaging, and empowering them; forming and developing collaborative teams; and building workplace cultures that honor the human spirit.
In the face of Covid-19, the use of collaborative leadership skills is essential to ensure organizational success. Marshall recommends several strategies to help you thrive collaboratively in the pandemic.
1. Gain perspective
Take a step back from daily activities to see the big picture. Use your reflection time to describe what is going on in your workplace and how it is affecting you and others, and brainstorm how you want to use collaboration to make a difference. This is transcending the current reality.
2. Be true to yourself
You know who you are, your values, vision, and mission. You are grounded, and as long as you come from that place and apply your collaborative leadership skills, you will be fine. Often rejection or criticism is coming from people who are less sure of themselves or feel threatened. Use empathy, kindness, and your genuine desire to connect and listen, and you may find that they make a shift in their attitudes.
3. Let go: What you resist persists
Be willing to let go. Sometimes it is not possible to find a solution. What you resist often persists. Sometimes dialogue is not the language others understand. You can use the power of your letting go to engage your colleague and, at the proper time, come back to have a productive conversation.
4. Learn to dance
Operating in a power-based organization often requires you to know how to “dance” with that culture. This means being flexible, agile, and patient. Behavioral change does not happen in a straight line. Remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare — slow and steady wins the race.
5. Respond, don’t react
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we feel we have to react to what the other is saying. We don’t. Remember your grounding. Be reflective. Consider what the other is saying, where it may be coming from, and then respond with empathy.
6. When in doubt, give them ownership
You will find yourself in situations where you are not sure what approach to take. In collaboration, your fail-safe is to give your colleagues or team ownership over the issue. What would they like to do? What do they think the options might be? Remember that people take care of what they own. Giving others ownership means you’re not advocating for a position; you are facilitating the team, and trusting them to come up with the answer.
7. Become a master
Your ultimate goal as a collaborative leader is mastery. First, learn the skills, and then practice them so much that you become a master. Once you are a master, you train others, and they in turn will empower and train those they work with. Think of yourself as a pebble in the pond, and that your work has a ripple effect across your organization and in all of your relationships, both inside and outside of work.
Sometimes, the culture of the organization is so toxic or unhealthy that the only option is to leave the situation or job. You first need to honor yourself and your values, well-being, physical health, and family. You tried to make it work. You did your best, but the culture of this organization is simply not ready for collaboration.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.