julia@iclc.com.au leonie@iclc.com.au

Leadership and cooperation

Posted by Julia Milner on Jun 4, 2018 in Blog

I have the privilege of watching many leadership trainers, coaches and consultants in action. In doing this I’ve noticed a common misunderstanding.

Quite a number of these professional development specialists are advising leaders to strive to enhance the skill of engendering cooperation from their direct reports. The logic behind this is that people apply a greater level of discretionary effort in supporting what they co-create. Absolutely a valuable result to aim for, but is cooperation the right process to get there?

Whilst becoming very skilled at increasing cooperation is extremely useful, I would suggest that this is management and not leadership. I need to say up front that we all know that there are times when individuals and teams need management, I myself have experienced many great managers (and some poor ones!). But despite people often interchanging the terms, leadership and management are different skill sets. 

Back to the cooperation concept. If I cooperate with you this generally means I’m being compliant to your wishes. Now I know that is not the dictionary definition of cooperation but lets be honest, we all know its often the reality. This is why I argue that this is management and not necessarily leadership.

Its not unusual for the same trainers to also suggest that leaders seek compromise. But here again we are faced with a challenge. In practice compromise often results in a lose lose situation, where neither party achieves their desired results. Yet again I recognise that this is necessary at times and a valuable skill to obtain. 

But great leaders know that if they want that greater level of discretionary effort focusing upon developing a culture of collaboration is the answer. Whilst collaboration and cooperation are similar, I would argue there is an implied power balance in a skilful use of collaboration. 

True collaboration is the coming together of equals to utilise their joint expertise for the greater good. Neither being more powerful than the other in the relationship.

Therefore I believe the best leaders will learn to recognise the difference between cooperation, compromise and collaboration. More importantly they will learn when each is the relevant process. Allied to this the best leadership trainers, coaches, consultants etc will recognise and be more explicit about, the difference between leadership and management. Not all leaders will have a management role but all managers would benefit from continually enhancing their leadership skills.