Collaborative Leadership for Complex Open Systems

Leadership is moving away from position and role-based authority into collaborative leadership and power-sharing that better facilitates stakeholder inclusion and participation. 

Leadership is becoming far more sensitive and adaptive than job descriptions can convey as we leave behind the command and control era. In a time of greater uncertainty and complexity, no role will seem more ambiguous and hazardous than that of the leader. Leaders have to understand the changing context in which their organizations exist, and recognize the complex stakeholder communities they serve.  In a transparent, virtual world, they have to practice greater openness, integrity and reputation management. They must be adaptable, collaborative, self-aware and at ease with ambiguity and strategic thinking.

Systems thinkers who can engage the interests of diverse stakeholders effectively may be more likely to manage these challenges. Today's leaders must support the interconnectedness of systems and communities in which traditional organizational, geographic and cultural boundaries are dissolving. They must be adept at maximizing the performance of diverse teams and fostering understanding and collaboration across diverse cultures and generations.  They have to respond to new technologies disrupting business models and work practices. They must engage with generations who may have different values and expectations.

In this environment the leader’s role is to clarify direction, create alignment and gain stakeholder commitment. They offer the guiding narrative to set an organization’s strategic direction and engage stakeholders in achieving the organization’s goals. Collaborative leaders discover their influence increases when they shift power to other stakeholders and engage in cross-boundary partnering.

Leaders have a responsibility to develop effective leadership teams and provide guidance to younger generations.  Learning through experience and coaching may be the most viable routes to future leadership development. Some have posited that women master collaborative leadership quicker than men; this may be simply because they have fewer traditional leadership behaviors to unlearn. Young people with their greater experience in team projects and social networks may find they are quick studies. 

Collaborative leadership is rising as an adaptive skill for our complex and uncertain times.  
Cultural shifts of this magnitude take time and life experience.  As one futurist colleague often taught in his presentations, changes in society can take generations and changes in human behavior even longer.