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Do Your Business Leaders Model Collaborative Behaviors?

Some variant of the following has undoubtedly been uttered in countless leadership meetings: “We need to be more collaborative to come up with better, more innovation solutions.”

Why? Because collaboration is how work gets done. i4cp’s research on collaboration confirms it, but you don’t need research to tell you that. Collaboration is good, so make it happen.

Easier said than done.

Collaboration can also be draining. Do your leaders—at all levels—know how to tell the difference? Do they know how to cultivate the right kind of collaboration and to model collaborative behaviors that in turn are emulated in their employees?

Purposeful collaboration

Earlier this summer, in coordination with Professor Rob Cross, i4cp released new research that established the difference between productive and unproductive collaboration in one word: purpose.

i4cp’s first paper in a multi-part series, Purposeful Collaboration: The Essential Components of Collaborative Cultures, examines what purposeful collaboration looks like. It reveals that the alignment of four essential elements—culture, leadership, work environment, and talent practices—are all clearly linked to higher market performance and more effective collaboration.

Collaborative leaders

The second report in the series, The 4 Critical Traits of Collaborative Leaders, is now available exclusively to i4cp members. This white paper focuses on the leadership traits that drive purposeful collaboration, grounded in our findings that leaders in high-performance organizations are 2x more likely to view effective collaboration as a potential competitive advantage than those in lower-performing organizations.

Indeed, leaders at all levels play a critical role in building and sustaining a culture in which trust and purpose drive a healthy collaborative experience. But our research also shows that collaboration often breaks down at mid-level manager and first-line supervisor levels, where collaboration and execution collide, leading to overload.

To avoid overload and facilitate purposeful collaboration, our research has identified four critical traits of collaborative leaders, the first of which is that they model collaborative behaviors.

Modeling collaborative behaviors

Purposeful collaboration requires leaders who effectively model collaborative behaviors – something that is 3x more prevalent in high-performance organizations than lower-performance organizations. Collaborative behaviors include:

  • Delegating—an essential component of this is clarity about who is authorized to make decisions.
  • Managing meetings—only invite those with the needed skills and knowledge to meetings and assign a stated purpose/goal to each meeting.
  • Creating an environment that makes it safe to openly communicate—unlocking the power of diversity requires inclusion, and one of the most powerful tenets of inclusiveness is an environment in which people feel free to express themselves.
  • Communicating—leaders in high-performance organizations are 4x more likely than those at low-performance organizations to be active and effective communicators (e.g., ensuring employees are aware of the expertise and contacts of others to whom they can turn when needs arise).

These behaviors come naturally to some individuals, but as with any behavior, none of them should be assumed to be inherent. To help ensure that leaders model the right collaborative behaviors, high-performance organizations are also 2.5x more likely than their lower-performing counterparts to include instruction in collaborative behaviors in their leadership development programs.


“We need to be more collaborative to come up with better, more innovation solutions.”

The next time this statement comes up (and it will), don’t roll your eyes. Think about your culture and how collaboration can play a purposeful role—and when it comes to your leaders, managers, and first-line supervisors, consider these questions:

  • Are leaders, especially first-line supervisors and mid-level managers, recognized and rewarded for modeling collaborative behaviors?
  • Are leaders in your organization viewed as developers of talent?
  • Do leaders understand the warning signs of collaboration overload?

For more detail—and more traits of collaborative leaders—download the full research report (i4cp members only).

Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.