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John Milsom

John Milsom



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Thought Leadership


Collaborative Leadership

Wickland Westcott runs regular Talent Management breakfast events, each featuring a ‘thought leadership’ presentation and discussion. A recent guest speaker was Marie Mohan of Common Purpose, an international not-for-profit leadership development organisation. Marie shared her experiences of developing international leaders, and specifically an approach to developing Collaborative Leadership skills.

Marie opened her talk by highlighting the importance for leaders to be able to inspire people beyond their official authority. She described how the challenges faced by leaders are far more complex and interconnected than ever before, and illustrated the impact leaders can have by forging alliances beyond previous boundaries.

A key indicator is to look for somebody who responds to tasks by asking:  “Who do I need to involve?” before considering what they need to do. Whilst an appetite for responsibility is also important, this needs to be combined with an interest in others and a willingness to trust people. In addition, Collaborative Leaders are defined as people who:

  • Invest time understanding the broader context they are working in
  • Demonstrate a “humble curiosity” – asking questions to understand
  • Listen
  • Are comfortable appreciating differences of opinion and perspective
  • Seek out challenges and take on things that make them feel uncomfortable
  • Capitalise on experience
  • Act decisively to build coalitions rather than consensus or compromise

Using the summer riots as an example, Marie singled out the response of Garry Shewan, the Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manager Police, as somebody who demonstrates these qualities. As the GMP picked up intelligence that unrest was likely to spread from London to Manchester on Tuesday 9th August, throughout the day they sought to engage with community leaders, local agencies and not-for-profit organisations, urging them to play their part in limiting the impact by keeping people off the streets and away from the city centre. During the night itself Garry very calmly and publically communicated through the media to make the same requests, continually emphasising the role of the community in controlling events and bringing those involved to justice. Whilst trouble was not prevented, the level of looting and antisocial behaviour was less than had been feared, and in contrast with similar situations, the unrest in Manchester led to an increase in cohesion between the police and community groups rather than a breakdown in relations.

In moving on to discuss how Collaborative Leaders may be developed, Marie highlighted the importance of encouraging people during their formative managerial years to understand the wider picture they work within. Exposing them to different opinions, value sets and organisational challenges is central to the development of collaborative skills. To illustrate how these may be achieved Marie described a recent initiative where a group of over 100 emerging leaders from the UK and India were brought together in Bangalore and set the challenge of finding a way of reducing the cost of standard heart surgery to just $1000. Whilst the group has not yet succeeded in this task, the experience of working together provided participants with a varied set of experiences, and gave an opportunity to practice collaborating on a real project within a genuinely diverse group.

One aspect of the plenary discussion following Marie’s talk concerned the challenge of ensuring young/developing managers maintain an appetite for progression once they have attended development programmes. Several talent professionals said they had noticed ‘high potentials’ losing interest in programmes over time. Recommendations discussed by the group included ensuring that people were selected based on their aspirations rather than ability (“You’ve got to invest in people with real desire not the high performers”), and a suggestion that development should not simply be laid on a plate for people as this can make them complacent (“Give people tough assignments and make them earn their next move rather than make it easy”). The importance of providing role-models was also highlighted, and the recommendation made to invest in developing a small number of leaders with genuine potential, rather merely filling development programmes just because there are spaces.

Overall, another interesting and stimulating event. Wickland Westcott would like to thank Marie Mohan and Common Purpose for their support.

Wickland Westcott’s Talent Management group is run as a networking and thought leadership forum for talent professionals. For more information on the group, or the ideas described above, contact John Milsom, Head of Talent – North.


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