This blog post expands on my points about collaboration in my talk at the Singapore Management University in March 2014.
If leaders were skilled at collaboration, we’d see more resource sharing, innovation, better leadership, more inspiration, and the human capacity would expand. This would benefit the world – men and women alike. Often, however, women are considered better collaborators than men. Frequently we read about women’s more collaborative approach to leadership, and this is great. We should not take this observation for granted, though. I’d like to assert that what we mean by “women’s collaboration” is often confused with women’s capability to make friends, not actual collaboration.
One of the reasons for women to lean into friendship-making more than collaboration may be the short history of women in the business world as leaders. Women have gained practice in working together mostly in the social realm, not in business. This is why my women clients, when promoted to management or c-level positions, have an especially hard time separating from their peers whom they have been working with at the same level. Their new positional power almost always redefines and changes their friendship into a more professional relationship.
In my leadership training and coaching I often remind my clients that there are three aspects to collaboration that I believe every leader should understand when developing their leadership approach. However, this is particularly important for women to reflect upon. What I outline here can partially explain why collaboration is so demanding.
- Commitment. First of all, there is the word labor in collaboration and it means that there is hard work ahead. Women who have given birth know this intimately. Laboring to give birth takes tears, sweat and pain, pushing through with a total commitment. You cannot change your mind and give up in the middle of your labor pains. The process of co-laboring is not about harmony, even though the end result might very well – and hopefully will – be. After the pain of labor, the resulting joy is magical. Similarly, collaboration takes more commitment than many of us are prepared for because you have to stick together through the tough times, too.
- Reciprocity. Collaboration succeeds only if the partners give and receive, not only offer help but also know when to ask for help and learn to take it when offered. Most women are super-skilled in offering help. However, we are not as skilled at asking for help, or even receiving it. There are many reasons for this, but one is economical. Women still earn less than men in most areas; so, the fact remains that women try to stretch every penny and do things themselves as much as possible. Asking for help and receiving it, is a complex matter – but an important step.
- Boundaries. Collaboration only succeeds when people are OK with themselves, are confident. This is where I constantly see women struggle – even at the highest levels of achievement. To be able to collaborate well you need to grow into solid self-esteem. Those who are great collaborators, also have an understanding and acceptance of who they are. Their generosity derives from their confidence. Their view of themselves is not threatened or diluted by joining with others. People, who struggle with their personal insecurities, are non-committing carry wishy-washiness into their relationships. The same occurs for companies. When a company has a clear and strong brand, they are not afraid to collaborate and create alliances because they won’t be minimized by the joint venture partner.
What is your collaboration success story?