Leadership is definitely the central factor of success and growth in organizations. As businesses seek to become different and develop inimitable competitive resources, leadership holds a promise to make them stronger in the face of unprecedented rivalry. Leaders compete with each other to obtain a better and stronger organizational position. However, when it comes to leadership, it is not rivalry that makes leaders productive. Collaboration is still one of the foundational pillars of successful transformational and authentic leadership, and contemporary organizational leaders must be ready to overcome numerous obstacles on their way to recognition and follower commitment.
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Collaboration is a buzzword in contemporary leadership research. In their model of leadership, Kouzes and Posner (1987) treat collaboration as one of the most important approaches to working with people (as cited in Northouse, 2010). In the words of Northouse (2010), “outstanding leaders are effective at working with people. They build trust with others and promote collaboration” (p. 184).
Unfortunately, the meaning of the term “collaboration” remains confusing, and many leadership researchers take it for granted. According to O’Brien, Martin, Heyworth, and Meyer (2008), collaboration implies developing and using interdependent and interprofessional associations that are focused on achieving a common organizational goal. For instance, in healthcare organizations, nurses and physicians develop collaborative relations and interdisciplinary ties, in order to cross the boundaries of their professional practice and equip themselves with the knowledge and skills required to meet patients’ needs.
Both transformational leadership and authentic leadership reaffirm the importance of collaboration. In the view promoted by O’Brien et al. (2008), leaders who want to be transformative must be ready to negotiate with their followers the most appropriate levels of supervision and decision making, while promoting reciprocal communication and using mentoring opportunities to facilitate followers’ adjustment to the new conditions of work.
Equally, authentic leadership is one of the most promising approaches to collaboration and interdisciplinary work within organizations. Many employees feel particularly challenged to develop and maintain effective collaborative ties (Laschinger & Smith, 2013). Authentic leaders empower their followers to engage in collaborative practices with their colleagues. Being collaborative means being ready to listen to diverse viewpoints and recognize their importance with an equal degree of respect (Northouse, 2010). Most leaders are aware of the role, which collaboration plays in organizational successes. This is why it was not difficult for me to identify a leader who would teach me a good lesson of collaboration.
I asked Natalie Westfield, a single mother of three children, who demonstrates outstanding leadership skills on an everyday basis, to become my interviewee. Two of her children are with special needs. She works full time for the State of Alabama and runs a non-profit organization, which assists single mothers in overcoming daily challenges. When asked about formal leadership training or education, Ms. Westfield speaks about her associate degree in Business Administration. She also has a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice. She has never engaged in any formal leadership training, although she believes it could be helpful, as she is trying to become a better leader.
Ms. Westfield says that life teaches a good leadership lesson. Even without any formal leadership training, a person can learn to be a leader, when the circumstances of life favor the development of such capacities and skills. She has learned to be a leader, by living life and realizing that she will have to work hard, in order to support her three children. The leadership enlightenment came to Ms. Westfield the day her husband left her and their three children.
That was the day, when she realized that she had to take control over her destiny. At the same time, she had to act, in order to be able to provide her children with the life opportunities better than her own. She knew that she wanted a better type of life for her kids. With time, Ms. Westfield understood that she wanted to be a successful leader and teach other single mothers how to succeed in life. She is confident that every woman has the hidden potential for becoming a successful leader, and she can teach others how to achieve the same goals.
Ms. Westfield says that she did not face any difficulties with engaging others in her leadership effort. What she did was telling the story of how she had been able to overcome obstacles. She used her own example to lead others, and the results she has achieved with her leadership are close to being remarkable. Of course, her movement to leadership success was not easy. Ms. Westfield confesses that her way to becoming a leader was that of trial and error. She has never been afraid of trying something new, and even failures did not stop her from pursuing her dreams.
Looking back at her leadership experience, Ms. Westfield suggests that her most successful action was facing and overcoming her fears. That was the beginning of her journey to successful leadership. At the same time, she was never afraid of challenges, being ready to try the most unexpected solutions to the most difficult problem. Despite the numerous obstacles encountered on her way, she does not think she would like to change anything in her life. The past experiences, were they positive or negative, have become a valuable lesson and an important source of knowledge about life. Ms. Westfield has become an example of a successful authentic leader for dozens of women in her organization.
The results of this interview suggest that successful leadership has nothing to do with micromanagement, control, and employee monitoring. Quite on the contrary, a successful transformational or authentic leader is that, who empowers his/her followers to make independent decisions for the benefit of the entire organization. As a leader, I will build my relations with followers on the principles of trust and empowerment.
I will encourage them to create teams and collaborative groups, which will enable them to cross the boundaries of their professions or disciplines. As a leader, my task is to share my story and set the direction and delegate the most important tasks to followers, thus inspiring them to contribute their initiative, efforts, talents, and knowledge in organizational development and positive growth.
To conclude, authentic leadership comes from the inside of the leader’s heart. Leaders’ life experiences shape the basis for the emergence of successful leadership models. The results of this interview confirm that leadership is something that can be taught, but no leader is possible without a talent and a strong desire to share his/her life experiences with followers. Unfortunately, Ms. Westfield did not say anything about the role of collaboration and how she would promote it in her organization. However, this question can become a good reason for holding another meeting with this wonderful inspirational leader.
Laschinger, H.K. & Smith, L.M. (2013). The influence of authentic leadership and empowerment on new-graduate nurses’ perceptions of interprofessional collaboration. The Journal of Nursing Administration, 43(1), 24-29.
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Northouse, P.G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
O’Brien, J.L., Martin, D.R., Heyworth, J. & Meyer, N.R. (2008). Negotiating transformational leadership: A key to effective collaboration. Nursing and Health Sciences, 10, 137-143.