Trends toward collaboration are increasingly prevalent in the operation of businesses, not-for-profit institutions, community organizations and government.  A new type of collaborative leadership is emerging, along with a body of distinct skills and approaches suited to this challenge.  Leadership of collaborations requires a range of strategic and facilitative skills,  not usually found in just one person.  In fact, many collaborations intentionally divide up the leadership tasks, in order to utilize the diverse expertise within their group to handle the complex dynamics of collaboration.  Collaboration leaders need to  simultaneously manage three critical dimensions of collaboration life:               1) developing trust and accountability with the collaboration/coalition base;      2) maintaining harmonious internal relations within the core working group; and 3) sustaining movement toward external goals.  Within each of these dimensions, leaders need to be attentive to both group process and the practical tasks that mark each phase of development. The ability to keep an overview of the whole collaboration while simultaneously attending to its various parts is of central importance.  


Collaboration leaders must help the collaboration to continuously define and redefine itself as a result of the dynamic interaction of its membership  -- organizations with disparate values, perspectives, experiences and priorities.   Such leaders articulate a vision around which diverse partners can collaborate,  and offer a constructive process for designing creative projects and solutions.  Because collaboration work is still largely uncharted, effective leaders also have to suggest tangible steps, demonstrate the linkages between diverse issues and priorities, and identify the commonalities that unite the effort.


If there is one ideal collaborative leadership style, it is facilitative. Rather than directing the effort, these leaders focus on building the capacity of the members to pursue a joint initiative or solve shared problems.  Collaboration leaders facilitate this by creating and managing a structure for cooperation and mutual accountability, as well as articulating the group’s collective interest.  As individuals, collaboration leaders must have a high tolerance for ambiguity, because every aspect of the work of the collaboration is in constant movement --issues, targets,  and conditions change over time.  Also shifting are the commitment levels and contributions of members, which need to be carefully cultivated and replenished.


Collaboration leadership demands: A) specific leadership functions; B) distinct leadership qualities and skills;  C) a conscious strategy for leadership development; and D) a recognition of the importance of collective leadership.





While all collaboration participants share certain functions in maintaining the joint effort, leaders have greater responsibility for setting the tone, assessing and managing group process, keeping the activity on target, and handling administrative details.  Their responsibilities may be categorized according to whether they address internal development (group process) or external goals (task functions).   Collaborative leaders need to attend to both task and process.


            1.  LEADERSHIP POSITIONS:   Leaders of collaborations have been identified as catalytic individuals, mediators, orches­traters, deal-makers, facilitators, policy entrepreneurs, bound­ary spanners and brokers. They may hold formal titles including:

·        formal officers:    President, Co-President, Chairperson/Co-Chair 

·        members of the leadership body: Steering Committee Member, Board Member,  Executive Committee Member, Team Leader

·        volunteer or staff leaders:  Director/Co-Director, Coordinator, Facilitator


            2.  TASK FUNCTIONS - HELPING TO GET THE WORK DONE:  Collaboration leaders need  to create a climate which maximizes the diverse expertise of  the group members.  They encourage participants to offer information, facts, ideas, opinions, alternatives, and attempt to link these ideas into a coherent plan of action.  Drawing from different sources and ideas, collaboration leaders propose goals, initiate  tasks and suggest approaches that best utilize the resources at hand.  Coordination is a critical task -- leaders  keep a perspective on the relationship between different groups, tasks, activities and plans.


Since achieving goals is probably the most important determinant of collaboration success,  top among leadership responsibilities are implementing coalition strategy, and moving toward goals.  This requires strong political , strategic and organizing skills, as well as knowledge of the issue and the target of change.  The collaboration leadership function here is to apply this knowledge -- not to direct -- to pull together related ideas, suggestions, plans, proposals, and restate the whole package.  Leaders also engage in periodic evaluation that  compares group decisions and accomplishments with long-range goals, and the group's values and standards, and make necessary adjustments.


Certain administrative functions need to be fulfilled by collaboration leaders. They need to assess and tailor the type of structure to the work to be done and to the nature of the collaboration:  the more complicated or general the goal, the longer the duration and the larger the number of partic­ipants, the more elaborate the structure required.  Tasks for leaders include scheduling, developing operating proce­dures, preparing agendas with the necessary input from others, and developing evaluation mechanisms.  Reiteration of contracts and clari­fication of operating assumptions and group goals are essential for  keeping the group on task.   


Leaders focusing on task goals may spend their time on the following activities:

·         moving toward the social change goal

·         defending against attacks and setbacks

·         educating the public

·         implementing coalition strategy

·         influencing or educating the social change target

·         outreach to the community and to member organizations

·         organizing and conducting meetings

·         planning

·         reporting and documentation to funders, public and members



Creating a positive climate for accomplishing the group's tasks is critical to successful collaboration.  Leaders need to help the group to develop and maintain a collaboration etiquette, providing  ground rules for group conduct and respectful dialogue, and participant agreements to clarify mutual expectations. Providing support for concerns raised by all participants, and drawing out and acknowledging contributions of less assertive members are leadership roles that promote group cohesion and member comfort.   Good leaders try to build a sense of identification with the group as a whole, despite competing loyalty to their own organizations.  This only can succeed if they do not overidentify with their own personal or professional group and are perceived as even-handed in territorial disputes.


Sustaining participation:  Collaboration leaders also maintain internal coalition operations and keep membership involved and mobilized.   Skills in mediation, bargaining, managing conflict and consen­sus building are extremely useful here.  Enhancing communication -- keeping communication channels open, clarifying decisions, processes and misunderstandings -- is an essential group maintenance function. The ability to rephrase, clarify, and fine tune disagreement helps the group to defuse arguments and find areas of  agreement.


Building Consensus and Managing Conflict:[2] Collaboration leaders need skills in managing conflict and in consen­sus building.  Conflict is inevitable because participants will have different priorities and expectations for the collaborative experience, influenced by their position in the organization, their values and commitment to particular ideologies, as well as the intensity of their stake in the outcome.  Also, differences in gender, class, color, or culture can spark highly charged interactions which require skillful handling. Encouraging open discussion of differences rather than avoiding conflict reduces tension and enhances trust.   Collaboration leaders attempt to work out disagreements and use conflict as an opportunity for constructive problem-solving. Leaders need to be able to distinguish between tensions which are superficial and those which are deeper, as well as whether disagreement is  related to personality, tactics, or values.   In order to achieve conflict resolution, they try to ensure that the negotiation process avoids a total win or lose situation.


Leaders focusing on group maintenance tasks may spend more of their time on the following activities:

·         consciousness-raising/educating membership

·         coordinating with other elements of the collaboration

·         keeping membership involved (mobilizing members)

·         keeping outside supporters involved/informed

·         leadership development

·         maintaining internal coalition operations




Collaborations and coalitions describe their leaders as possessing many of  the following qualities and skills:


            1.  QUALITIES:

·         articulate and persuasive

·         charismatic and inspirational

·         connected to power structure

·         controls and represents  a large constituency or organization

·         credible, dedicated, proven

·         organized;  good manager/administrator

·         persistence

·         sense of humor

·         trustworthy


            2.  SKILLS:

·         accent commonalities and minimize differences

·         applaud and respect diversity

·         balance pragmatism and vision - link an overall vision/purpose to immediate practicalities

·         balance process and action (product/task/goal)

·         balance stability and change

·         balance the 4 “P”'s - people, process, product, politics

·         establish a climate of mutual trust and respect

·         group development / facilitating skills

·         strategic, political skills

·         recognize, tolerate and manage conflict

·         recognize that reciprocity is important - i.e. giving to and getting from members

·         recognize the importance of interpersonal relations





Initial collaboration leaders may be self-selected, but after the effort is underway, processes for open leadership succession, selection and cultivation of new leaders can strengthen coalition longevity.  Methods for developing new leaders include:

·         providing opportunities to practice new skills and tasks

·         providing training to strengthen leadership skills

·         mentoring

·         pairing established and new leaders to perform specific tasks such as running meetings, giving speeches, delegating and following up on tasks

·         co-chairing committees or task groups

·         developing clear job descriptions and evaluations for different leadership positions, so that participants know what is expected and have some measure of their effectiveness

·         providing emerging leaders with group or individual feedback and constructive criticism

·         structuring second line leadership roles with opportunities for growth - e.g. moving from committee co-chairpersons to become board members or officers

·         rotating leadership positions on a regular basis, to ensure that new talent has a chance to emerge





Although strong leadership is indispensable, collaborations also depend upon the active and informed partici­pation of each member, as a representative of their profession, program, constituency or agency. Members are expected to play an active role in performing their particular task and helping to establish and sustain the collaboration mechanism.  Facilitative leadership can enhance the participation of each member by identifying and utilizing everyone’s skills and contributions and holding members accountable.


All group participants should have the capacity to monitor the group process and contribute to resolving process-based obstacles to effective collaboration. They should support each other in taking risks and confronting controversial issues. Collaboration members need to value diverse contributions and perspectives, commit to working together, and struggle with inevitable tensions.

[1] Additional information on leadership is also covered in other sections of this Workbook, particularly: Chapter 3: Some Essential Components of Coalition Development: The Four C's; under "Competence";  and Chapter 7: Structure and Process, under “Decision-making.” For detail on leadership tasks see also Chapter 4: Collaboration Development, which describes the various developmental tasks collaboration leaders will face over time, Chapter 9: Tasks of Phases II: Implementation and Phase III: Maintenance, which outlines the complicated three-level dynamics leaders will be managing, and Chapter 13: Managing Dynamic Tensions which explores some of the major conflict areas inherent in the collaboration process.


[2]  Also see Chapter 18: Problem-Solving and Conflict Resolution.