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Collaborate Your Way to Success – A Primer

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I recently attended a networking event where attendees’ profiles were projected onto a screen, presumably to ensure that attendees could get a better perspective of each other. I was surprised to note that most of them liked to profile themselves as leaders. I am sure they are professionally competent, but I was not sure if such self-profiling was a trend or not. To check on this further, I looked around LinkedIn and a few of the job boards, and I found that there are no managers available in these forums, just leaders … It almost seems to be a misnomer to mention oneself as a manager, especially in your profile. It’s either a visionary leader or something akin to that. Maybe it’s word play, or maybe there is something more than that.

It’s a fact that nobody aspires to being a good manager anymore; we all want to be great leaders. All is well with this thought except that the separation of management from leadership is dangerous and is a one-way path downward.  Just as management without leadership encourages an uninspired and boring style that stifles activities, leadership without management encourages a disconnected style that promotes chaos. I am sure we all understand the destructive power of chaos in organizations. The balanced approach would be to get back to the basics of plain old management. 

The problem, coincidentally, is that management is complicated, confusing, and sometimes downright boring. Additionally, the top guns in your company want you to be global and simultaneously be local (glocal, I believe is the word). You also hear words like collaborate and compete. Constantly change and maintain a semblance of order. Make sure the numbers are met while nurturing your people. Many similar demands would make any right thinking manager balk at the enormity of the task of reconciling all these apparent dichotomies. The fact is that it is very difficult, almost impossible for anybody to do that. 

To be effective, managers need to have the right balance to arrive at a deep integration of these seemingly contradictory concerns. To reach this goal, they must focus not only on what they must accomplish to meet the numbers and outcomes, but also on how they must think about the journey  

This is not only a problem that managers face; many business organizations face a similar problem. Execution and action are fine, but reflecting on their situations is not easily done. Some managers only think without doing anything about their problems and end up not getting things done fast enough. One company I helped was so concerned about getting their thinking right that they lost the first mover advantage and a large section of a virgin market simply because they could not take action. At the other extreme, many companies do many things in the marketplace but don’t spend time reflecting on what they have done; these companies eventually lose track. 

I believe that action and reflection are the two aspects which establish the bounds of a manager. Everything he/she does combines action on the ground and reflection in the abstract. Action without reflection is void of any sense, while reflection without action is demure and passive. Every manager has to find a way to combine these two mind-sets—to function at the point where reflective thinking meets practical doing—to work collaboratively. 

A successful manager or organization both acts and reflects by using a balanced or collaborative filter that ensures whatever is done cooperatively with other people delivers high value outcomes—in product engineering, service engineering, procurement, and any aspect of the business. Action (A)reflection(R) and collaboration(C) must also be rooted in a candid assessment of reality in all its facets and adhere to a certain rationality or logic. That’s where the treasure at the end of the rainbow lies. 


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