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Leading a Collaborative Effort: What Does It Take?

When you step up to lead a coalition, partnership or any collaborative effort, you may feel like you’ve crossed the border into another country – one with different values, priorities and ways of doing business. The leadership that is required here is very different because the leader is not in control of the group. Rather, he or she is responsible for guiding and coordinating the process by which the group chooses and carries out actions to accomplish its goals. It works well when community issues are complex and pervasive and when any individual or organization cannot change policies, systems and environments alone.

In their book Collaborative Leadership, Chrislip and Larson remind us that collaborative leaders lead a process not people. This process engages all community stakeholders in solving problems and making decisions. If done well, this process builds trust, openness and ownership. The solutions that arise from the collaborative process usually are more informed, based on evidence, innovative and more likely to work. As a result, community members become empowered and new leadership capacities are developed.

I’m sharing a photo here of a dynamic group of leaders of the Jenkins County Diabetes Coalition – their collaborative leadership effort has move this group on a pathway toward success in a very under resourced community.


Although the end result is worth it, collaborative leadership is not easy. It takes more time, and requires skills in dealing with conflict, turf issues, and resistance to change. Collaborative leaders must leave their “egos at the door” and move in the direction that the group desires. Collaborative leaders must be good facilitators, motivators and innovators.

If you are a credible, realistic and flexible leader, then you may be well suited to lead a collaborative effort. Above all, you must be committed to work for the common good – and isn’t that where collaboration starts?