Posted by: genevievetaylor | December 27, 2011

When did collaboration get so popular?

Have you noticed?  Collaboration is “in!”  Earlier this year, Wal-Mart and Patagonia announced a Sustainable Apparel Coalition, devoted to working with suppliers and tracking environmental impacts.  And they are not the least of it.  Patagonia, Adidas, Walmart Team Up on Sustainable Apparel Coalition | Fast Company.

I have been interested in collaboration for a long time, in parallel with my passion around sustainability.  What I have noticed is this: as people become empassioned about the “big” topics, and become empowered internally to make change, they naturally reach out to others.  Visionaries have realized that the only way they can really make a difference on these urgent, important issues (health; climate change; sustainability; the financial system; I could go on…), is that they must work together to make their vision happen.

This struck me so forcibly that last year (2010), I led a workshop called “Leadership Skills for the Visionary Collaborator.”  That day, along with 25 people who were leading change all over Sonoma County, we explored what leadership skills were specifically needed to lead effective collaborations – both within organizations, as well as between organizations.

For me, 2012 will be a year of exploring “what it takes” to be a visionary collaborator.  Many of my ideas are based on the leadership development training we already do at Global Genesis.  I am delighted by this topic; I feel that with a greater attention to the personal strengths and skills these visionaries bring, the more effective they can be.

And these days, the human race needs us to be effective.  Desperately.

So, what is a visionary collaborator?  How are they different from other types of leaders?

The visionary collaborator may be a CEO working with his suppliers and distributors  to set industry standards, like Jeff Mendelsohn at New Leaf Paper has done in the Paper Industry; they could be a set of non-profit leaders working together on enormous topics like Health, or Climate Change, like my colleagues at the Sonoma Valley Health Roundtable or the North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative.  Or they could be  green champions in organizations, progressing change amongst various departments or throughout the organizational hieararchy.

Their task is made challenging, unique, rewarding and powerful because they are visionary, they are leaders, and because they know they must collaborate to be able to create their vision.  And they are both influencing change as well bringing their own original thoughts to the table, while navigating a group that must answer to multiple loyalties.

There is a classic diagram that we use in teambuilding, of many arrows pointing in opposite directions.  The task for the visionary collaborator is to help align those arrows in generally the same direction.    To state it simply, s/he is a person with original ideas about the future who is working with a group of unaffiliated people to achieve a common goal.  To do that they must use leadership, or  what I define as “the process of influencing others towards a specific goal(s). “

In essence, the visionary collaborator is honing her/himself to be an effective partner – one that others will flock to because they are trustworthy and able to create results.

I have been noticing that in this world, which is in crisis in so many ways – economically, environmentally, and socially – that collaboration has been an avenue for robust and extremely creative solutions to form.  Check out this interesting coalition as a start –

I have a belief that these skills can be taught, developed, and improved on over time – that leaders aren’t born, but are created.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have their own innate styles and strengths that can be brought to bear in these situations.  In fact, I would argue that given the complexity of collaboration, it is important to have a variety of styles and strengths for a collaboration to produce real, long-lasting results.

Here are some of the qualities that must be developed by the visionary collaborator:

1)      Self and organizational awareness.  One must be very aware of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, assets and liabilities; this awareness essentially allows one to partner fully with others.

2)      Ability to Achieve Results: These collaborators must be courageous, credible, urgent and tenacious.

3)      Ability to Cultivate  Relationship: These leaders must bring their own brand of patience, diplomacy, and consideration.

4)      Attention to Collaboration:  Finally, these unique people must be open, aware, empowerd, and discerning for their collaboration to succeed.

Over the next year, I will be exploring both qualities and skills that the visionary collaborator needs to succeed.  I will also look to many of my contemporaries in thinking about what makes a collaboration work, how to structure to succeed, and how to use the strengths that the individuals in the group bring to bear.  May it be a year of fruitful collaboration!

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