Collaborative Leadership: An Interview with Michael Miloff
News & Events

Collaborative Leadership: An Interview with Michael Miloff

Reposted from The Leading Edge, Leadership Development Services' eNewsletter, April 2013

Michael miloff

In April, Michael Miloff, Consulting Mentor for JCamp 180 and a consultant to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, was interviewed about Leadership for the Leadership Development Services eNewsletter, "The Leading Edge." We are reposting here with permission.


What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for leaders in 2013?

Miloff: As the saying goes, we live in "interesting" times. An ever-global marketplace means that customers, suppliers, human resources, competition and partners increasingly come from anywhere and everywhere. "Opportunity and threat" is continuously around the corner, significantly driven by hundreds of thousands of engineers and scientists around the globe, who every day push forward the frontiers of materials science, medicine, energy systems, telecommunications and software. Added to this is a significant dose of environmental and political stresses and uncertainties. What all this means is that it is important to build broad value propositions for customers while staying focused on core competencies.

The primary challenge for leaders in 2013 is how to lead in an environment of growing complexity and uncertainty. What is most critical is the capacity to rapidly adapt one's strategy and relationships. This means that organizations and leaders must operate fast and deep at the same time. The demand for business alliances and collaborations couldn't be greater. Increasingly, senior staff also wants to be treated as partners in decisions and compensation.

What is collaborative leadership and why do you see it as an effective approach to deal with this new world?

Miloff: Collaborative leadership (CL) is the simultaneous offering of strategic insight and direction while empowering and enabling engagement. CL demands that leaders explicitly state their assumptions, views, questions and uncertainties. At the same time, they must create an environment of safety and stimulus- one that motivates and elicits sharing of perceived challenges and opportunities, and feedback on and engagement in the collaborative creation of strategies and solutions.

The concept of CL developed in response to seeing too many leaders fail. Many were leading through a top-down articulation of a strategy. No matter how insightful their leadership, it failed to harness the valuable insights of others and, in the process, failed to engage them.

Collaborative leadership works at many levels from individual one-on-one conversations, to small group meetings to elaborate strategic planning processes. Collaborative leaders can directly facilitate processes in which they also offer "draft" strategic directions, or they can ensure that others carry out these functions.

What are the benefits of collaborative leadership?

Miloff: Collaborative leadership, if exercised well, builds confidence that leaders are grappling with central issues and engaging key organizational players. Central issues are the foundation or linchpin issues, the fundamental choices that organizations need to make.

Collaborative leadership makes the leader the chief strategy scientist. As we know, world class science applies the brainpower of many to developing, testing and refining hypotheses. By stimulating and mobilizing the insights of others, collaborative leadership results in better decisions and more energetic and committed partners.

Collaborative leadership is a faster way to arrive at the right decisions. It works better than driving top down decisions that incur the risk of major mistakes or operating bottom up, which has the risk of taking too long and failing to adequately incorporate the insights of the top leaders.

What skills are needed for collaborative leadership?

Miloff: Collaborative leaders have exceptional ability to focus and synthesize diverse perspectives into ever-more refined data-driven action in ways that people recognize and make people feel good about their contribution to the whole.

Collaborative leaders propose directions that generate confidence and invite feedback, challenges, and collaboration in building better solutions. This can be accomplished through conversation that invites collaboration. For example, "Here are my ideas, what do you think?" or "these are the areas where I am most uncertain, what are your thoughts?" It is about inviting a dialogue with multiple perspectives on multi-levels.

Collaborative leaders create trust and safety so people feel free to critique their leaders' views without fear of retribution. Leaders, in turn, are able to leverage that trust to challenge and educate their team without fear of being seen as abusive in their power.

Collaborative leaders find ways to accommodate, and even capitalize on the many different styles of problem solving which inevitably are at the table. For example, how individuals value data vs. intuition, or urgency and closure vs. relationship and consultation, or preferred mode of communication, email vs. phone vs. in person.

You've emphasized the importance of strategic insight. What tips do you have for our readers?


1. Cultivate the ability to focus ruthlessly on central issues. Avoid the temptation of being side-tracked by issues that are interesting but not central.

2. Get data. Set up short-term feedback loops. It is easy to be seduced by the stories one tells oneself as to why you are successful or failing.

3. Always ask why. Be relentlessly curious. Keep peeling the onion. There is always more to learn.

4. Make predictions and test your insights. Don't just retrospectively rationalize. Find out what your customers really think about your products, organization and you!

5. Make sure you are crafting data-driven narratives.

6. Invest in tools to help you do a better job. Get a coach or mentor to help you develop your most important tool - you!

What books have you been reading lately that have stimulated your thinking?

Miloff: I've been enthralled, as have been millions of others, by the Game of Thrones series, which is a reminder of the human desire for a story, for a great narrative. Since so much of business life - marketing, strategy, communications - is ultimately a narrative, imperfectly related to the facts, there is probably much we can learn much about crafting business narratives from the expert story tellers. Of course, in the case of business, we need to make sure our stories are as grounded as much as possible in good data and analysis.

I also have been reading Thinking Fast and Slow by economics Nobel-prize winner, Daniel Kahneman and rereading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions by Dan Ariely. These books do an incredible job highlighting the extent to which our perceptions and decisions are influenced by irrational factors. We can apply these insights to create a manipulative toolkit for telling compelling business stories, or, hopefully, and more soberly, see it as a means for immunizing ourselves against our own and others' conscious and unconscious tendencies and social pressure to craft, and be persuaded, by unfounded stories and narratives.

Reposted with permission from Leadership Development Services, LLC