Career Corner: Collaborative Leadership

Career Corner: Collaborative Leadership

Ahead of our new event in March on this topic, Fiona Hathorn, Managing Director of Women on Boards, explains the skills involved in managing disagreement and what collaborative leadership really looks like.

Allowing everyone a voice
Diversity and inclusion, if done well, lead to equal opportunity. Corporates need to do more to change their culture in a bid to ensure they are more inclusive and are collaborative in meetings so that those with ideas, and different views, have the opportunity to speak. Speaking-up and listening-up is vital, see more on this FCA article for the Financial Conduct Authority’s recent ‘Insight’ article on the subject of listening and context.  

Research shows that for teams to ‘fight then unite’ they need to have a trusting and open environment. Performing teams rarely happen by accident, they are usually led by effective leaders who know how to engage, disagree, listen, conclude and then task.  

Very few companies invest in collaborative leadership below the C-Suite. Sadly, it is the ‘permafrost’ layer below the C-Suite that can act as a block to inclusion because this group, in general, struggle with understanding what ‘being more inclusive’ really looks like in practice.

Just having more women sitting in the boardroom is good but it will not necessarily deliver the desired outcomes as regards better profits and leadership below the board.

Why diversity alone isn’t enough
Divisional leaders need education and investment to be sure they have the skills to unlock the potential asset afforded by different perspectives, otherwise the asset remains untapped, unmined and unused, according to Margaret Byrne (Leadership Consultant with UGM Consulting). Bryne points out that there is evidence that, minus these leadership skills, diversity can increaseconflict, misunderstanding and mistrust.

Byrne's ‘filmed’ corporate leadership research shows that Anglo-Celt males with remarkably similar backgrounds to each other dominated the business-critical problem-solving and decision-making tasks she filmed. Basically, she found that people were not thinking together in any meaningful way.

Byrne is so right when she says that diversity by itself delivers no particular benefit and can even lower performance. To perform well as leaders, people need to add to their diverse teams the skill set that underpins thinking together in a collegial way that benefits the task at hand, in particular the skills involved in disagreement. After all, disagreement is as a step on the route towards agreement and it is individuals that challenge the status quo who typically drive a business forward. 

Developing skills in collaborative leadership 
Corporate UK should, I believe, stop trying the ‘fix the women’ with various ‘brand you’ type courses and instead invest in their leaders below the C-Suite and provide them with a course on ‘How to disagree without being disagreeable’! Having a diverse team with a range of skills is business critical, so why not invest in helping your leaders and managers disagree productively with each other?

A significant shortcoming in many top teams today is ineffective team-based problem-solving and decision-making. There is an inability to genuinely think and make decisions together, even though decision-making meetings take at least 80% of executives’ time. 

To be an effective leader it is a good idea to understand the essential neuroscience elements of decision-making, which will help to increase the effectiveness of your decision-making. 

People who do this well understand the most frequent causes of decision-making failures and thus know how to minimise the risks of future failures. Additionally, those that know how to accommodate differences in cognitive style, something which I think is essential for global leaders, are likely to do perform well and drive their businesses forward.


Should you want to learn more about leading collaboratively, register for Fiona’s talk to Cityparents members on 6 March 2019.

You are also invited to register for one of Women on Board’s UK ‘Leading Collaboratively’ Modules taking place on January 23 2019  and 15 May 2019 

Women on Boards (WOB) exists to provide information, encouragement and connections to help women get to the top within their own company or to take on a board or committee role as a non executive director (NED), trustee or governor. We are breaking down the barriers to entry to the boardroom and building the pipeline of board-ready women. WOB operates from the principle that as talent and ambition are equally distributed between men and women, organisations in all sectors need to work towards gender balance at board and leadership level, in order to reach their full potential.

Twitter @wobuk | LinkedIn @women-on-boards-uk/​​​​​​ | Youtube @FionaHathorn

Released On 17th Jan 2019

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