Collaboration: Managers who share power, have more power

While a person of royalty is born to his or her station in life, ordinary people have to work to achieve a position of power. So it is often difficult for individuals who have finally arrived to suddenly discover that the strength of their power (or influence) rests in the hands of others – usually

the people they manage.

Middle and upper managers who were trained in the command and control management school “know” that collaboration is important in today’s rapidly changing business environment. But while providing lip-service to the subject and often sponsoring staff training sessions on collaboration, they still find it disconcerting, difficult and even impossible to give up their imperial role.

What’s the fun of being boss if you can’t boss?

Legislators, law enforcement, the workforce and investing public have watched the Tsarist activities of senior executives with their financial mismanagement and financial greed. However, they are beginning to seriously question the disturbing trend of the cook eating before the rest of the family and guests . . . and gorging themselves with wild abandon!

There is a paradigm-shift taking place that says the provincial-bureaucratic-corporate pyramid has outlived its usefulness and that micro-management is no longer feasible or desirable.

Today we operate in a knowledge economy. In this type of environment, you can’t simply order people to work harder, smarter, or faster and to ignore the information that surrounds them. Knowledge workers get their information from all sides, not just from the top down. If they were properly hired and trained, they know more about their work than their bosses and supervisors.

Monopolistic managing doesn’t work. People need to be free, encouraged and constantly reminded to adapt and innovate. Effective individuals and teams that are empowered will drive the success of their organizations, functions and activities. If their collaborative efforts aren’t constantly encouraged the organization’s future is in jeopardy.

But collaboration doesn’t just happen. Senior management must insist that it is carried out and practiced at every level. They must also lead by example. But the dirty little secret is that many leaders are uncomfortable with such structures. They cling to imperial roles because as Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be king !” It is a tremendous stroke for the leader’s ego. Sharing power and sharing information doesn’t enhance the alpha-male’s/female’s well being. It simply makes the people who know and do the work feel better.

So why is true collaboration talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk in the best interest of your organization and your senior management?

In today’s knowledge economy firms have to realize that the real power, market position and strategic/tactical advantage are in the hands of knowledge workers. Not owners, not managers. The prime imperative for today’s leaders and senior management is to meet the needs of these workers.

Why? Because the best of today’s knowledge workers have a number of choices of where they can work and the terms of their employment. Since 1985, 25 percent of the American workforce has been laid off at least once. As a result, the bond between the organization, its management and knowledge workers is tenuous at best.

These people want meaning and direction.

They want a sense of significance and self-satisfaction.

They expect trust in and from their leaders.

They are inspired by a sense of hope and optimism.

They demand results.

If the organization isn’t open to collaborative workflow that will take advantage of and nurture the firm’s intellectual capital, the company’s most valuable asset will find a position elsewhere One that is more aligned with their personal and professional goals.

When that happens some portion of the organization’s intellectual capital is lost. Even in the most dispersed, most automated operations, that will represent the loss of some portion of the firm’s future competitive advantage.

Our best risk-taking, results-oriented leaders are catalysts. They expect to achieve a lot. They also know that there is little they can do without the efforts, support and commitment of others.

Take a hard look at the achievements of Intel’s Andy Grove and Charlie Barrett, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Dell Computer’s Michael Dell and Kevin Rollins, GE’s Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, IBM’s Lou Gerstner and Sam Palmisano and Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett.

Each in their own fashion brought to their jobs the zeal, resourcefulness, risk-tolerance and discipline of an entrepreneur. Nothing less would have broken through the noise, clutter, and competitive pressure of today’s marketplace.

But the common thread of achievement with these executives was their ability to recognize, employ and focus the men and women of their respective firms to tap into their need for self achievement and self worth. Without this ability they would have been simply decent CEOs and good stewards of the investors’ company.

They were actually able to generate intellectual capital for their firms, capital that isn’t shown on a balance sheet but that is vital to the firm’s growth and long-term prosperity.

As with GE’s Welch, they understood the key to their success was selecting the right people, allocating capital resources and spreading ideas quickly.

Helping your knowledge workers is more difficult since to truly excel, senior management must make difficult decisions in short time frames with imperfect data. They have to be able to think in the abstract and connect the dots when the lines are fuzzy at best.

As hockey’s Wayne Gretzky noted, “it ain’t’ where the puck is. It’s where the puck will be.” Or as a Fortune 500 CEO once said: “if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.”

Inconsistency is the one constant.

The challenge is that indecision is never an option!

The best managers encourage the sharing information.

They encourage people to speak out on important issues.

They share decisions.

They share credit for successes.

They accept failure as progress.

In baseball, a great player is one who bats .300. That means he strikes out seven out of 10 times. Or as Gretzky reminds us, “”You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.””

Successful managers know that with imperfect information they are not going to be right 100 per cent of the time. They know that ultimately they must take their best shot.

At the same time they have to create a climate that tolerates strikeouts and missed shots.

The alternative is a company mired in indecision: A firm where control exists only at the top. A company that can easily be surpassed. A company that is slowly, painfully dying.

It is an organization where the best knowledge workers have limited options:

–depart for greener pastures

–bide their time until new, better management arrives

–accept and be satisfied with mediocrity and indecision/nondecision

None of these options look very appealing.

Aggressive collaboration must be a priority with every CEO and manager in today’s knowledge-based business environment. Today’s businesses must generate intellectual capital. Management must encourage and nurture it. They must create added value.

It’s difficult to admit after all of your years of hard work that being a king isn’t all it is cracked up to be. But it is important to remember that kings only remain kings as long as the kingdom thrives.

Today’s business kingdoms only thrive in a collaborative environment.

Andy Marken is the president of Marken Communications Inc. You can e-mail him at

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