A few thoughts on leadership in a collaborative world

In a context of collaborative innovation, how does leadership change? How does leading interfaces with collaborating?

I look at leadership as a sum of hard and soft skills, which evolve during our life. Competencies are behaviours, ways of doing things.

In theory, we can do things with or without other people’s involvement. This is a first, important point. We can have non people-related (which we often call hard) competencies, where our ability to do things does not necessarily depends on interacting with others. For example,orientation to results (how determined we are towards achieving our goals) could be measured in situations where interaction is absent, if only for the sake of the argument. Other hard skills include all sorts of technical skills required for our job, plus a number of additional competencies such as market knowledge and even strategic orientation. In abstract, again, one’s ability to craft a business’ crucial strategic lines does not necessarily require immediate collaboration with other people. Implementing the strategy does.

Then we have what we often call soft competencies, or people-related competencies. These are ways of doing things which can only happen through relating to other people. It can be through collaborating with colleagues or influencing them (what we call collaboration & influencing) or leading and motivating a team (team leadership), or changing the way a group of people works (change leadership).

One of the simplest, perhaps most banal yet best kept secrets is that after a certain point, rather early on in life, hard skills start to decline in absolute terms. The very same me today is clearly far less results-oriented, all things being equal, than I was ten years ago. It takes me more effort to be updated, to reach a similar level of knowledge.

At the same time, “social”, interpersonal skills, by then, take off. For best-in-class talent, they continue to grow over time. From that point onwards, growth in soft skills more than offsets the decline in hard skills. The same me today, all things being equal, can be far more effective in interacting with others than I was years ago.

The sum of hard and soft competencies is a proxy for leadership, as well as for one’s satisfaction, and can be measured.

Both our leadership and our satisfaction grow, from a certain point in time on, if we are able to more than compensate a decline in hard skills through an increase of hard in soft skills. In other words, all of our incremental satisfaction, from a certain point on, depends entirely on our ability to grow interpersonally.

The key message of all this is the following: what we do is important, that’s clear. More important, though,is for and with whom we do what we do, whose needs we address through what we do. This opens up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long. We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite. How do we sharpen the focus, then?

Growing interpersonally means becoming better at leading a team, but, even before that, better at collaborating and influencing people. Collaborating means connecting effectively, persuading, understanding, listening to their needs, identifying needs and selecting those we like to satisfy. All of this requires the ability to connect, and to do so in a wise manner, through careful selection. Selection is choice. Choosing whom we like requires thinking, open thinking, and listening, making room for other people’s needs.

Most of us would highly benefit from broader focus on relationship and connection.

Tommaso Arenare 


This post is my contribution to “Making Weconomy 04 – Human (R)evolution“, an open access paper which can be found here.

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