Collaboration is Leadership

For Deb Bailey, collaboration means valuing the gifts each individual brings. It means keeping a perspective that is global and a spirit that is inclusive. It means encouraging participation from those who are often overlooked—and working to deepen understanding, awareness, and knowledge through diversity.

“I love this definition as it really stretches the definition that we would have traditionally thought of as collaboration—or just working together,” explained the Director of Corporate Communications at Steelcase Inc. at the ATHENA Leadership Forum in May. “It is about working together in a much more planned way to ensure that all voices, skills, and demographics are at the table and truly designing solutions that respect all who are affected.”

In business and community development—not to mention personal careers—collaboration can be a difficult idea to implement, Bailey admitted. Many of today’s leaders grew up in an era when collaboration mostly meant completing your portion of a set of tasks, and in reality, we seldom ask for help or want to accept it. Authentic collaboration happens only when one is “ready and willing to admit you don’t have all the answers…and that you want and need help from others,” noted Bailey.

After many of her own collaboration experiences—both positive and not so much—Bailey recommends the following:

  • Observe and consider whether work (or other team) environments are helping or hindering collaboration. Remove or address any barriers to full participation.
  • Work on moving from a posture of “I” to “We” in both your words and your approach. People will forget what you say and do, but they will not forget how you made them feel.
  • Create physical spaces so that individuals are not isolated when they are working on serious problems. Replace them with energizing areas that offer easy access to others with different ideas and disciplines.
  • Give up control and total ownership of processes and projects to allow collaboration to flourish. Find ways to step aside and make room at the table for others. Make sure they are “heard” once there.
  • Listen harder and more than you speak. Be open to learning and having your views questioned. Be transparent.
  • Recognize others successes and just as importantly their losses. Be vulnerable in expressing your needs and develop trust with each other.
  • Be patient. The collaboration process can take longer, but you get a better solution in the long run.

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