Despite the new business model created by the pandemic, where employees work mostly from home or on a hybrid schedule, it’s more important than ever for business leaders to create a culture of collaboration, even when teams are working remotely. The most successful organizations foster enhanced communication between managers and employees who cooperate to accomplish a shared goal.

Collaborative leadership is based on the belief that by working together rather than managing from the top down, teams can be smarter, more creative, and better able to think strategically across corporate cultures. Collaboration among diverse groups of employees builds better morale and an atmosphere of trust and respect. Today’s leaders must create global teams that share aspirations and acknowledge the contributions of every employee.

Forbes contributor Norma Watenpaugh, CEO of PhoenixCG, identifies five characteristics of successful collaborative leaders:

  1. They encourage varied points of view. While differences can cause conflict and even arguments between employees, a collaborative leader sets the tone for the dialogue, encouraging all team members to share their ideas. They encourage everyone and welcome all ideas and points of view, even when they disagree. Collaborative leaders nurture an environment of innovation and acceptance of new ideas.
  2. They recognize the contribution of others. A skilled collaborator ensures that the dialogue in the workplace is not dominated by the most outspoken or loudest voices, but will draw out more quiet individuals and ask for their ideas and opinions.
  3. They understand how to use their influence rather than trying to command or control their employees. Sometimes leaders need to hold back in order not to limit team input or dominate the conversation and help create an atmosphere of creativity.
  4. They welcome information sharing. Some information needs to be protected, but collaboration makes clear what can be shared and what cannot. The more you can share, the better the ability to generate new ideas and solve problems.
  5. They promote win-win collaboration. Joint problem-solving requires an environment where all the players are seeking mutual gain. Sometimes the path to team harmony is difficult, and some ideas will necessarily be tossed out the window, but with a truly collaborative dialogue, a leader can work toward a solution that suits everyone on the team. 

Truly collaborative leaders nurture their own emotional intelligence — i.e., they are self-aware, self-motivated, self-regulating, empathetic and socially skilled — to understand the emotions, desires, and motivation of their employees. By putting aside their egos, these leaders can encourage shared knowledge and steer their team toward a mutual goal.

That’s always the challenge, and one I have taken on while co-founding three social ventures with my business partner, Adam Thompson — the most recent of which is eha Impact Ventures, an enterprise that supports early-stage, female-owned small and medium enterprises in Nigeria. It’s important to find the right people, something that is not always easily done, and then it’s important to guide them — to work with them, as opposed to having them work for you. That’s what we’ve tried to do.

In my mind, strong, collaborative leaders are usually not born that way; they must learn the skills necessary to succeed in a global environment across cultures to build dynamic, inclusive teams and networks that can harness the expertise, contributions, and imagination of all involved.