Collaborative Leadership Theory
What is the leadership theory: A Collaborative Leadership Theory was developed by David Chrislip and Carl Larson through their research on civic leadership and collaboration in the 1980s and early 90s. In their book, Collaborative Leadership (1994) they define collaboration as: A mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties who work toward common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results.
Collaboration is seen as more than sharing knowledge and information. The Collaborative Leadership Theory assumes that by cooperating and coordinating their efforts, groups of people collaborate when they transcend personal interests to pursue common goals.
In a leadership context, the purpose of collaboration is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address public concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular party.
What is the implication of this theory for leadership development?
In Collaborative Leadership, Chrislip and Larson test the following hypothesis:
If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community.
This hypothesis shifts attention away from a vision of leadership as “heroes who tell us what to do” to a vision of leadership as “servants who help us do the work ourselves.” Implicit in this hypothesis is a belief that diverse people can solve their most pressing problems and address their needs if they have the information they need and are brought together in constructive ways. Leadership development becomes the means by which people are brought together with constructive processes, and the information that will enable them to do the collective visioning and planning to act on their shared concern.
Successful collaborations meet four conditions.
1 They are broadly inclusive of all stakeholders (including those who may be “troublesome”).
2 They provide a credible and open collaborative process that gives participants the confidence that their views will be heard and considered without predetermined outcomes.
3 They have visible support from high-level, well-known and trustworthy leaders in the community to provide the credibility necessary to assure participants that their efforts may lead to tangible results.
4 They gain the support or acquiescence of “established authorities” or institutions either at the beginning or as a result of the collaborations success.
In short, successful collaboration efforts are able to:
- Produce tangible results,
- Empower participants,
- Lead to revolutionary changes in civic culture, and
- Create a renewed sense of community.
The focus on results is critical. Chrislip and Larson acknowledge that “getting results” is too often where collaborative efforts fail, and that there needs to be a shift from a focus on planning to a focus on getting results. Action plans are a tool that help leaders turn collaborative agreements into action. Within a successful collaboration a “steering” group is responsible for moving strategy to action.
Collaborative initiatives get results because participants take deliberate actions to achieve them. Specific actions that produce results in groups include:
- Consciously shifting focus from planning to results
- Establishing a management structure and review process to oversee implementation
- Establish detailed action plans for each implementation initiative that include clear time lines and assignments of roles and responsibilities
- Finding champions and creating implementation teams with the capacity and commitment to initiate and sustain action
- Spinning off implementation tasks to existing organizations (or creating new ones, if necessary)
- Securing agreement of implementing organizations to goals, strategies and implementation tasks