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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Powerful shifts have been taking place in the world around us. More people are demanding a say in the institutions that impact them. Consumers are determining what a company's brand is – not the other way around. It's an exciting revolution and many organizations are responding with new ways of working. For example, many hospitals are involving patients in key business decisions for the first time. And smart companies are leveraging social media to co-design and fund products with their customers.

The desire to have a say in perhaps our most important institution – the company we work for – has been a fundamental desire of employees for a long time, and the current shift is intensifying this desire. Unfortunately, the divide between the type of involvement employees crave and what they actually have seems to be widening in many organizations. I think that this is just one of the reasons for the steep drop in engagement levels in the North American work force.

Leading people successfully in this new world requires a new paradigm – collaborative leadership. This approach works because it is less top-down and it enables real employee involvement in making a business work. Simply put, collaborative leadership makes employees partners in the business management process.

What does collaborative leadership look like in action? Let's take a look at the four essential activities that make it the best approach for today's business environment.

Engage your team to define the way forward

Previously, employees were told what to do and they did it – this approach seemed to work for a long time. Then, smart employers started involving employees by asking for their input on how to improve the way things worked. However, it was still up to managers and executives to decide whether to listen to these suggestions. Often they didn't, leaving employees disillusioned.

Collaborative leadership gives employees a seat at the leadership table and makes them partners in defining the vision and plan for their organization. The benefits of this approach include higher quality options and strategies, greater employee buy-in for new directions and the required actions (after all, they helped create them themselves), greater organizational agility in the face of rapid change, and ultimately, better business performance.

Welcome participation, innovation, and new opportunities

Giving your employees a seat at the leadership table won't make a real difference unless the atmosphere feels right – they just won't contribute. Collaborative leadership works to create an environment where employees will be bold enough to make the most of this opportunity. It encourages participation by team members, engages them through intriguing questions, listens to their answers, and involves everyone in lively and positive dialogue. It enables and rewards new idea generation and implementation, the seizing of new opportunities, appropriate risk taking, and intelligent failure. When conditions feel safe, employees engage and collaborate enthusiastically.

Empower team members to take ownership

Have you noticed lately that management efforts are focused on establishing, managing, and rewarding employees who take accountability for getting things done? However, the problem with accountability thinking is that it's an extension of a command-and-control management style.

Collaborative leadership pushes beyond accountability to achieve the natural result of giving employees a seat at the leadership table – ownership. Enabling employee ownership for where the business is going, how it works and the results it's achieving requires giving team members the knowledge and freedom to engage in problem-solving activities and make decisions collaboratively without oppressive micro-management. Employee ownership accelerates the ease and speed at which a business achieves its goals.

Implement the infrastructure to enable collaboration

Until recently, giving people a seat at the leadership table was a literal thing. However, in today's connected world, we have access to tools and technologies that support instant collaboration between team members no matter where they are in the world.

Collaborative leadership involves taking proactive steps to put the right technology at people's fingertips so that they have the ability to stay in touch, work collaboratively, and share knowledge and insights continuously and seamlessly. It also ensures that other critical infrastructure, such as collaboration guidelines, new skills training, and required business knowledge are in place and available to team members as needed. By investing in the necessary infrastructure, business leaders and their teams can be assured that they will be able to make collaborative leadership a reality and reap its benefits.

Adopting a collaborative leadership approach in any organization takes time and isn't easy. However, with commitment, strong sponsorship and leadership, and investment in the necessary tools, technology, training and new skills, any business and leader can transform in a way that's in sync with this "new world" we find ourselves in.

The benefit? Happier employees engaged in making meaningful contributions that produce better results for everyone your company touches.

Sandy Richardson (@collabstrategy) is president of strategy execution and strategic planning firm Collaborative Strategy, and the author of Business Results Revolution.

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