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The collaborative leader pt4


Dan Hammond concludes his series about the craft of the collaborative leader - the final piece focuses on optimism.

There is an 'I' in team

"Let's face it," says Charlie O'Connor, director of LIW, "There is an attractive quality about someone who is optimistic. It encourages people to come and work on their team."
This is a self-evident simple truth but how often do leaders act on it at work? Too often, work can become a serious matter where leaders feel they have to show that they are taking things seriously and so act, well, serious. They can then become part of the problem: neuroscience shows that people under stress make worse decisions (unless the complex business issue requires a simple fight or flight response but it rarely does, sadly).
The collaborative leader, as if they did not have enough to think about already, will deliberately work on their optimism and in tough times, this means building their own resilience. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology says the best time to cultivate this is in your early teens. The second best time is now.
Resilience relies on two personal attributes that can be developed:
  • Self-esteem: can I answer the question 'who am I?' with confidence. Am I clear about my purpose, my vision and my values? 
  • Self-efficacy: how confident am I that I can get things done?  If you are working through other people then this your belief that you can get things done through others.
This optimism is not the Panglossian, head-in the sand kind that ignores adversity. This type of optimism, called the 'Stockdale Paradox' by Jim Collins, combines two apparent opposites: a firm belief that things will work out well with an ability to confront the brutal facts of the situation. 
"Before you can lead anyone else you have to lead yourself. If you want to lead through influence and you are gloomy, how are you going to get people into a room to work with you?" - Charlie O' Connor
"Before you can lead anyone else you have to lead yourself. If you want to lead through influence and you are gloomy, how are you going to get people into a room to work with you?" asked O'Connor. Leaders trying to collaborate are operating largely through influence. 
Optimism and positivity are 'heliotropic' says Professor Kim Cameron; they attract people to them in the same way that plants are attracted to sunlight. So, regardless of anything else that you do, cultivating positivity and optimism will encourage people to want to work with you simply for the benefit of your 'sunny' (pun intended) disposition. This counts as 'general reciprocity' and can, indeed, improve all aspects of social capital. 
We started this series with a story of how Charlie O'Connor discovered collaboration almost by accident when serving with the UK in Bosnia. We will close with the happy, even sunny, ending that resulted from Charlie's new approach.
Charlie was based in a town which had the front line of the Muslim-Croat war going through it. Ironically, the town had been built to house workers in an armaments factory. The commanders on either side had known each other since school. They had grown up together, attending the same university and had been to each others' weddings. The problem was that one was a Muslim and one was a Croat so when the war started, they did their duty and ended up commanding armed forces on opposite sides.
They had fought each other for three years, terrified that one night they might have to shoot the other. When they came together under the light touch of Charlie's new approach, embraced and dissolved into tears. No agendas were issued and no minutes were taken. Some slivovitz was drunk, apparently. What mattered then was the higher intent - the peace accord - that would return a war-torn town to normality. It would also bring two lifelong friends back together.
O'Connor compared this with the seriousness and dysfunction that can prevent collaboration in the tamer world of business. "If you are in marketing and think you have a beef with someone in sales that can't be overcome, think again and pick up the phone."
Dan Hammond is a managing consultant at global leadership consultancy, LIW

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Dan Hammond

Managing Consultant

Read more from Dan Hammond

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