It is no secret that organizations want collaboration and innovation from its teams and leaders.  Based on our experience working with leaders in organizations, the challenge is that most don’t know how.  Very few, if any, are ever taught how to collaborate. In fact, when you look at how most schools are set up, collaboration – working together to find or create solutions – is considered “cheating”.  Even group projects in school are rarely collaborative. Most consist of one student leader telling others what to do. Which never ends well. Yes, students are told to collaborate; however, they are not shown how.  Organizations are not that different.

With so little practice in our foundational years, and hardly any instruction on how to actually do it, it is always surprising when collaboration is considered a skill that we are just expected to know how to do.   

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

As our world is swiftly changing and organizations are struggling to keep up, curiosity is the disruptor needed to engage collaboration.  We all know collaborative leaders are essential to organizational success. Now let’s talk about how you can become one.

3 Habits of Collaborative Leaders


1. Actively Listen to Learn, Not Judge 

Successful collaborators know they don’t know everything about anything.  They also love to learn, explore and push the boundaries of what is possible. Collaborative leaders recognize that every perspective is an important one, and no two perspectives are ever the same.  Everyone brings value to the table and the only way you can harness that value is to be open and listen without judgement. This means being present to actively listen, quieting the internal voice in our head.  Then choosing to listen with a focus on the speaker. This is how we see and hear people – the first steps to building trust.

It is hard to collaborate without trust.  

This doesn’t mean you have to like what you hear or even agree with what you hear, the intention is to listen to learn.  Learning and gathering the perspectives of everyone will allow you to move forward in a way that 1 person couldn’t do alone.


2. Ask Open Questions 

As you listen to learn it is important to stay in a place of curiosity.  

Curiosity is the disruptor that allows you to do things that have never been done before.  

Asking open questions (questions that begin with who, what, where, when and how) allows you to not only dig deeper, it also creates understanding and clarity about other people’s perspectives and experiences.  Open questions allow you to test assumptions and create the space for self-reflection – as individuals and as a team. This is how you grow and expand. Open questions also open up opportunities to new possibilities, allow you to look at things differently and create outcomes that otherwise would not be thought possible. 

Most importantly, open questions allow you to better understand the thoughts, perspectives and experiences of others. Ultimately, we all want to be understood. Again, this creates trust and allows you to move forward as a team in a way that supports everyone.

BONUS: Focusing on asking open questions limits your ability to tell/fix and solve.  This shuts conversations and opportunities down and almost always leads to conflict.  If you get stuck thinking of an open question, ‘tell me more’ is a great way to keep the conversation open and continued learning/understanding.


3. Reward Failure 

As the sales saying goes, “every no takes you closer to a yes.”  Mistakes and failures happen. A lot. And they are not always bad, in fact some would argue – myself included – that they are required for success.  This is how we learn.

Sharing our own personal failures and listening to the failures of others creates a tremendous amount of opportunity to determine what works and what doesn’t.  Then building upon it. We live in a world where the F word is frowned upon (yes, I am talking about failure).  

Rather than celebrating failures and sharing them to learn and improve, we hide them and feel shame or blame ourselves for not being enough.  Not good enough, smart enough, creative enough, strong enough, the list is endless. Setting a culture that celebrates failure creates a safe environment for people to take risks, try new things and create outside the box for new and different outcomes – a.k.a innovation.   

While many companies focus on innovation, it is impossible to innovate without collaboration, and vice versa. The two go hand in hand.

Based on your experience, what do you think is the most important quality in a collaborative leader?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the box below.


Kirsten Siggins

Kirsten Siggins

Co-Founder of The Institute of Curiosity, Co-Author of The Power of Curiosity, Communication Ambassador for Wealthy Woman Warrior™

We specialize in high-quality conversations that build high-quality relationships. That means we help people STOP reacting (to people, emotions, events) and learn to start RESPONDING to engage and inspire others, especially in emotional or high stakes situations.


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