Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the greatest leaders the US has seen, once made a typically self-deprecating comment. He said: “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues.”
Simplistic? Perhaps. But correct, nonetheless. You have a conscious choice to make when it comes to your investment in supporting your colleagues. Whether they are at the same level as you, above you or up-and-coming leaders – your workmates can drastically affect the way you are viewed in an organisation. Not only that, being willing to engage and collaborate openly, and with the intent to assist their progress as well as your own, can actually improve your leadership skills, both soft and hard.
Management is tough. It is getting tougher by the minute, as leaders in the age of Information face challenges that their predecessors never imagined in their wildest corporate nightmares. There is both the predictable enemy at the gates from competitors you can see, and the “unknown unknowns”, the competitors that couldn’t have been predicted in a million years. Who would have seen, even five years ago, the advent of Uber when it came to competition for taxis?
Digital disruption has meant that new skillsets have to emerge at the speed of – well, a theoretical NBN perhaps!
This is where the ability to support and encourage one’s colleagues is invaluable, and will actively advance standing. If you are lacking in a particular area of expertise, and a co-worker is particularly able in that area, then why wouldn’t you look to them for assistance in boosting your knowledge?
But this isn’t about taking and not reciprocating. The whole point of supporting and collaborating is just that; to provide a mechanism of reciprocity. You are basically creating an internal intelligence bank that will give the organisation the combined big-thinking of a team, rather than individual skillsets that may not be nearly as effective. This means a higher rate of competitiveness, a greater profitability factor – and a C-Suite who will look at your willingness to work with others for the good of the company.
Isolationist leadership is small-picture thinking. If you want to be a leader with vision, you have to be prepared to move from “it’s all about ME and my goals” to “what approach should WE be taking on this”?
In the same way, active sponsoring of those who sit below you, that future pipeline of managers and leaders, will only have positive results – for both parties. Unlike mentoring, sponsoring is a two-way transaction. The individual being sponsored gets practical help and the public endorsement of the sponsor, who in turn is likely to be noticed by those at the top for making it clear that they are willing to give time, effort and attention to someone with promise. Sponsorship requires an active collaborative attitude where talent fosters talent, reflecting in the protege and the sponsor’s reputation. This shows true leadership, with the ability to step out of the comfort zone, and a wish to see an effective leadership pipeline in place.
So what are some tangible measures that you can take to start thinking and acting more collaboratively in the workplace? How do you become more of a “we” space thinker, and less of a “It’s all thanks to me” leader?
❑ The next time you are unsure about a technical question or project-based point of order that you can’t wrap your head around, don’t try to bluff your way through it. Ask for help. Without a doubt, you will learn something new.
❑ You are surrounded by big thinkers; so allow them to think – and also to receive the credit when credit is due. Just because you are leading a project or program doesn’t mean the success is necessarily down to you.
❑ Offer to relay a skill of yours to a colleague in return for some of their knowledge. It’s banking the currency of intelligence without having to spend a cent.
❑ Be willing to sponsor. It’s a big commitment so understand what it means. Bottom line, though? It will mean success for both of you.