How can you become a collaborative leader? In this fourth part of our five-part series on Morten Hansen’s book Collaboration, three key ingredients for the right collaborative stuff are exposed: vision for goals, inclusiveness, and accountability.

Book data
Title: Collaboration
Sub-title: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity and reap big results
Author: Morten T. Hansen
Publisher: Harvard Business Press
Price: $29.95

What does it take to be a good collaborative leader? Although the recipe may sound easy (only three ingredients), professor Morten Hansen (UC Berkeley and INSEAD; for full bio click here) warns fore off that only 16% of the executives that he has tested have the right collaborative stuff.

Why is this? “Because there are many barriers to being collaborationist”, explains professor Hansen. In fact many of the traits that one usually associates with leadership – such as ego or appetite for power – are strong brakes to proper collaborationist management.

Learn from the governator
To illustrate his points, professor Hansen selects a Californian turncoat: governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. For the first two years of his tenure, from 2002 to 2004, the governator did things antagonistically vis-à-vis his Democratic counterparts, who controlled the legislature. Alas, his popularity rating dropped from 60% to 30%, and it dawned on him that collaboration would suit his needs better. So the governator started displaying the three qualities required.

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Redefining success
As a first step, the governator understood that he needed to redefine success, not based on his narrow agenda, but on larger goals. This meant not achieving his personal goals, but finding constructive common ground with the Democrats, in order to get California fixed and running smoothly.

Extrapolating this trait to the private sector, redefining success could mean that a collaborative CEO sees the light by trimming some personal success benchmarks (e.g. compensation or authority), in order to pursue larger company-wide goals. A prime example here is for a CEO to leave behind an orderly, well-groomed successor who will ensure corporate survival and livelihood.

Involving others
As a second step, Schwarzenegger understood that success in his role meant greater involvement with other constituents. Involving others is another defining behaviour trait for collaborative leaders.

To illustrate this point, professor Hansen chooses the example of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. President Kennedy faced several options, with his joint chiefs of staff strongly recommending military action. Yet Kennedy insisted on analyzing the option of a naval blockade, suggested by another non-military staff member. Kennedy’s inclusive approach entailed meetings without his presence or influence, sometimes in informal settings, and discussions wherein participants acted as ‘sceptical generalists’ and viewed problems in their entirety.

For a collaborative leader, this inclusiveness implies openness to people, to alternatives and to free-wheeling debate.

Being accountable
The third trait of accountable leaders is the degree of accountability they expect. This applies both to themselves for their duties, and for their team members in their tasks. Professor Hansen illustrates this with Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Nissan during its difficult turnaround period. Ghosn made a surprise announcement at a motor show that he and his executive team would resign if three important corporate goals were not met within three years.

Accountability also means that a collaborative leader will not hide behind shared duties to avoid blame and shift responsibilities.

Why so few collaborative leaders?
For professor Hansen, the answer to this query lies in character traits. And more specifically in five character traits that impede proper collaboration.

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The statistical analysis he performed showed professor Hansen that power hunger, arrogance and defensiveness were the biggest hurdles to collaborationist leadership. Power hunger is particularly strong in preventing leaders to redefine success, and set broader agendas that might exceed the narrow CEO agendas. Arrogance is detrimental to inclusiveness, namely in terms of teamwork in decision-making items. Defensiveness does not help leaders in being accountable.

Can leaders change?
The good news is that managers can change, in order to become more collaboration-prone. John Chambers, the CEO of router manufacturer Cisco, is one example. By his own admission, he transformed from being a command and control CEO to being more collaboration-minded, because that is where he saw the future.

And let us not forget the Californian superhero, who changed from governator to collaborator. “Hasta la vista, amigo”.

The next issue of Casium will feature unpublished analysis and research by professor Hansen into online collaboration – a topic that is not covered in his book.

Published March 2010.
Next issue: April __, 2010


Collaboration in five short snippets
As mentioned in our last issues, we are now offering you deeper analysis of noteworthy management books, over the course of several issues. We inaugurate this approach with professor Morten Hansen’s book Collaboration.

In the first instalment (dated February 3), we examined what he means by collaboration, when to collaborate, and when not to.

In the second instalment (dated February 17), we identified the four important hurdles to collaboration.

In the third instalment (dated March 4), we examined how to build a cohesive collaboration effort, either for a specific project, or as an overall corporate culture.

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In this issue we focus on how to become a collaborative leader. In the final – unpublished – chapter, we will look at online collaboration. For us, Morten Hansen will provide some insight into his as-yet unpublished research.

The editors
Michael and Chris Fodor
Comments are always welcome at or