The interdependence of value chain actors and greater involvement of civil society, organized groups and government; the digital age and greater global connectedness; a more informed and increasingly demanding consumer in the business world, are pushing to the limit the skills of the leader who, in the words of David D. Chrislip, must be as concerned with process as with content and ''behind the scenes'' as with center stage; being more insistent and compelling, but not overbearing.

But what actually is Collaborative Leadership? The first article that refers to the term dates back to 1994, when Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss writes about the collaborative advantage that companies gain from the ''art of their alliances'', going far beyond the financial return and recognizing the potential of relationships as a key asset for the business, incorporating the human aspects to ensure its success.

This concept has been strengthened since then with the emergence of different business models and forms of organization, including: global value chains, coalitions, public-private partnerships, the active participation of civil society in solving problems and market needs, as well as the creation of technological platforms for collaboration. Collaboration is an excellent mechanism for knowing the customer with greater precision, reducing costs, accelerating scale, enhancing skills and expanding influence to generate better results.

Definition. In the words of David Archer and Alex Cameron, authors of the book ''Collaborative Leadership: Building relationship, handling conflict and sharing control'' (2013), collaborative leadership is leadership that leads and delivers results while considering functional and organizational boundaries and barriers. Leaders create strategies, build systems and align people across their own and their organization's boundaries. They do this in coordination with their various partners who are usually trying to do the same thing, but in their own way. Collaborative leaders know how to get the most value from the culture, experience and skills of their team and the organizations they interact with. To achieve this they must have the ability to build relationships, manage conflict and share control.

Collaboration is not synonymous with consensus, nor is it the soft option for doing business. It requires its leaders to have the ''determination and ability to put aside whatever is necessary to achieve the goal, aligning interests, building trust and creating something new together. This involves difficult conversations and tough negotiations in a mix of different cultures, convictions and values, but is worth fostering because it results in maximum value for the parties.

Harvard has also examined what it means to be a collaborative leader and highlights four strong skills in them:

  1. They play the role of connector: The ability to connect people, ideas and resources that would not happen without their intervention.
  2. Attract diverse talent: Keep the team fresh by constantly bringing in new blood.
  3. Model collaboration from top management: Measure from the highest level and cascade down to the rest of the company, integrating from strategic to operational.
  4. They show a strong hand to prevent teams from becoming eternally trapped in debates: Too much collaboration could tempt us to enter into eternal discussions, the collaborative leader knows when to stop the conversation, make decisions so as not to enter into a vicious circle.

For the United Nations, the process in which collaborative leadership occurs, people analyze differences in a constructive way; share resources; exchange information and activities; seek creative solutions to new challenges; enhance their ability to benefit from each other and to strive for common purposes by sharing risks, rewards and responsibilities (UN Women, 2010).

Collaborative leadership goes beyond that. If we only see collaborative leadership between companies, between men or only as a successful team dynamic, we have really missed the point. True collaborative leadership has by essence and definition gender equity at its heart. According to an MIT study, collective intelligence is higher when the group is more socially sensitive and lower when there is a dominant leader. Teams with more women obtained greater social sensitivity and as a result greater collective intelligence.

La Neurociencia ha comprobado porque naturalmente las mujeres tienen un estilo de liderazgo más colaborativo. Un estudio realizado por Camelia Ilie, Chair del Centro de Liderazgo Colaborativo y de la Mujer, de Incae Business School, señala que:

  • The existence of more neurons in the language areas gives women a greater capacity for communication.
  • The presence of larger areas in the hippocampus associated with emotions and memory also confer a greater innate capacity to express emotions and develop empathy.
  • The presence of fewer neural circuits in the amygdala, the area of the brain where responses to danger and aggressive behavior are activated, make women less likely to be confrontational.

But this is not just about them, it is about both. Collaborative leadership seeks to maximize the value that both men and women, and in general, all the actors in organizations enhance. As Dr. Ilie points out, collaborative leadership: ''It is an imperative for the competitiveness of companies''.


Por Gaudy Solórzano
Gerente del Centro de Liderazgo Colaborativo y de la Mujer de INCAE