Collaboration – A Dimension of Leadership Character


That a leader must be “collaborative” was perhaps not seen as essential last century, while other dimensions in the table are timeless. “Working together” does not describe the old-school boss. For a leader to show co-operative, collegial, respectful, flexible and interconnected characteristics suggests more the servant leader – one who inhabits the new era of distributed leadership. But for now, I will park an examination of modern leadership within the organization and will examine the importance of collaboration in the development of successful alliances between firms.

Collaboration is the smart route for even the biggest New Zealand firms and crucial for those with diversifying or disruptive ambitions in new technologies, sectors or geographies. In a highly competitive world of fast-paced technology and dynamic markets, alliances make the impossible possible. They are a fact of life. Alliances eliminate shortcomings, share risks and diminish customer concerns. To collaborate combines strengths – in creativity, in knowhow and experience, in resources both physical and financial, in access and contacts. Most importantly, collaboration increases speed, so that the combined venture gets to the goal faster, again reducing risk.

Being a good partner is far more than just the cold legal economics of the deal. The alliance needs to be nurtured between people at numerous levels. Not just a warmth and compatibility between CEOs, it needs to evolve and deepen through the organizations. Genuine collaboration should result, so that ideally the various interpersonal relationships foster greater integration in strategic, tactical, operational and cultural co-operation.

Asian partners “get it”; the importance of deep relationships and slowly built trust. AngloAmericans, Northern Europeans and Pakeha find this intimacy and cultural competency difficult. Happily, increasing numbers of our business leaders are finally understanding the importance of being “good partners”.

To illustrate by way of case study: – two world-class Canterbury manufacturers, separated in time, culture and attitude, are Synlait, the innovative milk products company, and LWR, creators of the “Canterbury” brand of sports apparel. Synlait has developed an impressive collaboration with its Chinese partner and now major shareholder, Bright Dairy. Mr Penno and Ms Richardson regularly describe to New Zealand audiences their evolving and deepening alliance at the many levels required for success.

The LWR of the “Canterbury” phenomenon ultimately failed to capitalize on the global opportunity offered by its Rugby clothing sensation. To share or outsource manufacturing volumes, to admit weaknesses (lack of knowhow, access, resources, channels, competitiveness), to expose IP, to structure with vision, and to partner with warmth and depth were all alien to an insulated, production-driven, culturally naive world view.

For a few years, I was one of the “Canterbury” leadership group. I still admire what was achieved in the 70s and 80s by some talented and dedicated members of that group. However, it was never sustainable. We were of our times, all approaching our work and decision-making within the prevailing paradigm. Learning from the past, the Synlaits of today show the collaborative way to international trading sustainability. Making the impossible possible.




For more, you might visit an oldie but a goody, some of which is used in my piece: Visit also