Thought Leadership

Article for ICA written by Iva Wilson

Collaborative Leadership

The term Collaborative Leadership describes an emerging body of theory and management practice which is focused on the leadership skills and attributes needed to deliver results across organizational boundaries.


This leadership article is based on the book “The Power of Collaborative Leadership; Lessons for the Learning Organization”. This book was written by three co-authors, Iva Wilson, Bert Freedman, and JoAnne Wyer ( The book is a compilation of stories of several leaders who were all implementing the principles of Organizational Learning in their respective organizations. All but one have subsequently lost their jobs. It also contains research the authors conducted to underline the principles discussed in the book. One of those interviewed did this work as he said as “stealth”. In other words he just did what he believed was necessary and never told his boss about it. He let only the results speak.

The rest of us were much bolder, as we wanted to show to our bosses that these new ideas brought by Peter Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline” will have a major positive impact on the results and we wanted the entire organization to implement the same. In many ways we evangelized Organizational Learning.

As we interviewed the leaders for this book we learned that Organizational Learning as a methodology to improve organizational effectiveness did not work. One of the objectives of the book was to develop a leadership model we believed would allow leaders to be more successful and create better results, i.e. through “Collaborative Leadership.”

At this point in time I do not know whether anybody tried to apply this model and whether they were successful or not. What I do believe is that if the original model included coaching leaders, they would have been more successful in leading their organizations.

Since the original model did not include coaching for leaders as a result we all, except one (that did the work in a “stealth mode”) lost our jobs. This was unfortunate for me, but it taught me a big lesson. One of the reasons I want to be a coach is to help other leaders not to get into the same situation I found myself in.

Herewith a leadership model derived from the book.

Elements of Collaborative Leadership
The original model spoke about coaching only in one element, i.e. “Skillful distribution of Power.” Subsequently once I became a coach and in particular while going to ICA I realized how coaching of leaders can enhance the leader’s ability to become a more effective leader and added this to the original model.

Personal Learning

The core of being a learner is embracing a stance of “not knowing.” It’s a hunger to discover. It’s about letting go of trying to prove our thinking is correct, validating our thinking, and replacing that with a search for – what is producing the results we’re getting? How am I contributing to that, for good and for bad? How might our thinking be leading us down the wrong road? When accepting the learning stance seeking a coach to support our learning is essential. The coach can by listening and asking powerful questions get us to understand what we need to do to improve pour learning process.

Shared Values

Why are values central? They are the source of our commitment. People need to see their personal values reflected in the values of their organization in order to deeply energize themselves. Once people are engaged; they look for a match between that which leaders and organizations say and that which they do. If there are frequent mismatches between words and actions, it seriously erodes commitment and can stop change initiatives dead in their tracks. Developing shared values is a process that can best be supported by a coach who supports the group in creating those values. Coaching process provides for the group first the opportunity to assess values of each individual, and subsequently again through a process agree on the values that everybody in the group can share.

Skillful Distribution of Power

To effectively distribute power in the organization it is necessary to develop and maintain sufficient leadership capacity within the organization. This has been and still is today a big issue for all companies especially the big ones. But the good news is that all people are capable of becoming leaders. What we need to do is give much more opportunity for people to practice leadership. Only by doing will they learn how to lead. Give them the opportunity, and coach them through the process.

Here are three keys to the intelligence required in this:

  1. Be clear about the extent to which people know what the organization is trying to achieve.
  2. Be clear about the knowledge or expertise people possess.
  3. Err, on the side of giving more, rather than less, responsibility.
  4. Be conscientious about periodic follow-ups.

Though the leaders in this book were committed to coach their people, they did not do anything to get coaching for themselves. As a result the outcomes were very unfortunate for all of them. In my personal case I did have a coach who did a fantastic job helping me to take the right decisions. Unfortunately for me, after I became involved with Peter Senge he left as he did not believe that Senge’s ideas were the right ideas to make organizations successful. As I reflect back on that time continuing to be coached by the same coach would have different outcomes for me.

Note: This element is the only element in the original model that recommended coaching

Stewardship of Learning

Being a steward of learning is all about encouraging others to learn. It’s about asking questions, and encouraging others to ask questions, that will promote deep reflection and discovery of new insights. This involves facilitating the examination of the thinking beneath our actions and supporting the correction of errors in thinking when they are discovered. The processing of “mistakes” is critical to all of this. It relies upon an environment in which it is safe to surface situations that are not going the way we anticipated. As I think about processing of the “mistakes” it reminds me a lot of coaching. Coaching requires that a safe environment be developed in which the coach and coachee can work together so the coachee can achieve his/her goals.

Balancing Vision and Pragmatism

This element reminds us that successful change initiatives depend upon both the articulation of a compelling vision and attention to pragmatic issues. Most of us have a more developed capacity in one of these than the other. We need to be aware of our tendencies, as leaders, and work to develop that which is less well developed, because neither vision nor pragmatism, on its own, has the capacity to move an organization forward. Often leaders by themselves cannot either see the need or be able to create an effective balance. This comes about primarily because some leaders are visionaries, and others are pragmatist. To make this balance work a skillful coach can add support by creating conditions to assist leaders in working with both, vision and pragmatics. The coach will by listening to the leader and asking powerful questions allow the leader to come to his/hers solutions.

Masterful Strategies and Tactics

Being a master strategist and tactician involves figuring out how, in the context of any organization, with its specific people and culture, things can move forward. What do we need to do to engage others? What do we need to put in place to avoid stalling out? Such an effort again requires support of a coach. By presenting to the coach this element, the coach will by listening and asking powerful questions help the leader develop his mastery in bringing forth a strategy that would move the organization forward.

Final Comments

As I review the leadership model presented in this article I can see how coaching encompasses all elements of the model. It is also clear to me right now, why those leaders we interviewed for our book could not stay in their jobs; they did not have coaches to assist them in further developing their leadership styles. This was also the case with me. If I had a coach I would surely have created different outcomes, because there would have been somebody there to listen to me and ask me powerful questions.


  • “The Power of Collaborative Leadership; Lessons for the Learning Organization” Bert Frydman, Iva Wilson, JoAnne Wyer, Butterworth Heinemann 2000
  • “Collaborative Leadership and the Pharmaceutical Industry” Pedram Alaedini and Iva M Wilson blog post from May 2012 on the following web site: The Coaching Collaborative