strategy+business is published by PwC Strategy& LLC.
or, sign in with:
strategy and business
(originally published by Booz & Company)


Four Traits of Collaborative Leaders

Zachary Tumin and William Bratton, coauthors of Collaborate or Perish! Reaching across Boundaries in a Networked World, introduce an excerpt about how managers can become collaboration catalysts from The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential, by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese.

Human beings have been collaborating since the first mastodon hunt, but today there is more collaboration than ever. From the marketplace to the battlefield, no one’s going it alone.

The difference now is that we are where Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler said we’d be — the world is an electronic village in which the power of small groups to disrupt the status quo is soaring and response times are fast approaching zero. Digital technology has changed everything.

Or has it? Technology is an essential element of collaboration, but it’s no silver bullet. It can take out the friction, but in this era of big data, there are still plenty of big collaborative failures.

What makes collaboration so hard? It necessitates reaching across boundaries, building trust quickly, joining the assets of multiple networks, and making everything work together. All in an environment where you may have little or no formal authority, yet face the challenge of overcoming legacy systems, slow-moving bureaucracies, and mind-sets that favor collaboration only as a last resort.

In short, successful collaboration requires leadership. This excerpt from a book by Cisco executives Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese explains the key behaviors that leaders must exhibit to support and enhance collaboration. Every leader looking to unpack the riddle of collaboration and chart a sure path forward should read it.

Zachary Tumin and William Bratton


An excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential


In order to become a chief catalyst for collaboration, you will have to model behaviors that embody the way you’d like your employees to work. For 150 years, corporations, governments and militaries were built for up-and-down leadership, with incentives and rewards that discouraged cross-organization thinking and, in many cases, actually created or encouraged internal competition. Your challenge is to develop and model the behaviors required to inspire people and teams to genuinely break through organizational silos and make collaboration a competitive advantage.

How you lead your people has a direct impact on your ability to eliminate or mitigate the types of human behaviors that slow organizations down. In our experience, both inside Cisco and with our customers, highly collaborative leaders share four leadership traits. They:

  • Focus on authentic leadership and eschew passive aggressiveness
  • Relentlessly pursue transparent decision making
  • View resources as instruments of action, not as possessions
  • Codify the relationship between decision rights, accountability and rewards

Focus on authentic leadership and eschew passive aggressiveness. For collaboration to succeed, leaders need to be authentic. Cisco studied which characteristics of leaders on collaborative teams are most important, and we found that the most critical attribute was a leader’s willingness to follow through on commitments. This involves two elements.

First, as a leader of a team, department or business unit with people, budgets and resources under your control, you must follow through on organizational commitments. Unfortunately, people don’t always do what they promise. Passive aggressiveness is a subtle, nuanced form of human behavior in which people find ways to undermine others. They often give tacit agreement in a meeting, for example, but then proceed to take counterproductive action once the meeting is over. Or they might agree to help another team, but then are slow to follow through or put an under-performer on the assignment. Think of how much organizational inertia is created because leaders don’t always do what they say they will do.

Second, when there is disagreement about a decision — one made by you or someone else — fight the instinct to make it personal. Ultimately, most disagreements are not personal in nature, but rather result from differing approaches to making a decision. The more you focus on communicating what drives your decision making, the more time you can spend making good decisions instead of arguing a choice with a peer. This leads us to the next leadership trait.

Follow Us 
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google Plus YouTube RSS strategy+business Digital and Mobile products App Store


The Reviewers

  1. Zachary Tumin is the coauthor, with William Bratton, of Collaborate or Perish! Reaching across Boundaries in a Networked World (Crown Business, 2012). He leads the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’ project in Information and Communications Technology and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and directs the Harvard component of a joint Harvard–MIT initiative in cybersecurity.
  2. William Bratton is chairman of Kroll Inc., a leading security and risk consultancy owned by Altegrity, Inc. Previously, Bratton was police commissioner of Boston and New York City, and police chief of Los Angeles. He is also the coauthor of Turnaround: How America’s Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic (with Peter Knobler, Random House, 1998).

This Book

  1. The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential (Cisco Systems, 2011), by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese
  2. Ron Ricci is vice president of corporate positioning at Cisco Systems Inc. He is also the coauthor of Momentum: How Companies Become Unstoppable Market Forces (with John Volkmann, Harvard Business School Press, 2003).
  3. Carl Wiese is senior vice president at Cisco Systems Inc., and leader of its multibillion-dollar global collaboration business. He is a veteran computer, data, and telecommunications industry executive with more than 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, services, and product management.
Sign up to receive s+b newsletters and get a FREE Strategy eBook

You will initially receive up to two newsletters/week. You can unsubscribe from any newsletter by using the link found in each newsletter.