Leading with Partners: Collaborative Leadership

Working in partnership requires a different type of leadership than leading solely within an organisation or program; it requires a collaborative leadership approach and style, where leadership is not the responsibility of one person but shared among a group of people.

Collaborative leadership has two interrelated components:

  • Co-leading – leading with others, or shared leadership
  • Facilitating staff exercising leadership and responsibility.

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To be an effective co-leader:

Be a connector: Build relationships, with individuals, groups and networks, and link concepts, ideas and initiatives.

Be a boundary spanner: Cross traditional boundaries to work in new ways; this may include pooling and sharing of resources with other organisations.

Be a catalyst: Identify opportunities and innovate; contribute your strengths and resources to achieved shared outcomes.

Be a systems thinker: Understand context and dynamics, see the linkages and interactions between different parts of the whole.

Facilitate: Facilitate partnership work and nurture the collaboration by creating conditions, structures and processes which support it.

Act with others: Co-create a shared vision and plan, and sustain the partnership work.

Share power: Share power for decision-making and action; communicate and behave in a transparent way to foster trust.

Learn from each other and together: Broaden your perspective, knowledge and skills by learning from others, reflecting and learning together, and developing skills and knowledge required for partnership work.

Incorporating concepts from Ospina and Foldy, 2015, and the Center for Ethical Leadership, 2007

Facilitating Staff Exercising Leadership and Responsibility

Contemporary models of leadership view leadership not as a position of authority but as “a practice, an activity that some people do some of the time” (Heifetz, Grashow & Linsky: 2009: 24).

To support and facilitate staff exercising leadership and responsibility:

Engage for input: Create real opportunities, processes and structures and for staff input, including on how to work in partnership.

Weave and facilitate networks: Link, people, ideas, and resources (internally – within the organisation, and externally) including those that normally might not link. Weave networks between individuals and groups through relationship building and facilitating collaboration for mutual benefit, for example through joint projects. Facilitate networks through identifying and mentoring new ‘weavers’ who will continue to build and maintain networks (Krebs & Holley, 2002-2006).

Facilitate cooperation: Facilitate trust, positive communication, and conflict management and resolution, across programs and with other organisations.

Foster diversity: Bring people together from different backgrounds, cultures, disciplines, generations, programs, organisations and sectors, and facilitate the contribution of their diverse perspectives, skills and connections.

Facilitate shared learning: Create opportunities for reflection and learning from evidence and practice across programs, disciplines, organisations and sectors and incorporate learning into the work of the organisation and the partnership.

Be a collaborator: Model collaboration and collaborate with other managers and leaders to create a culture of collaboration.

Incorporating concepts from Ibarra and Hansen, 2011

As working in partnership increasingly becomes the accepted and expected way of working, collaborative leadership skills will be required and valued at all levels of the organisation.

Grace Leotta is an organisational community development and training consultant. She supports organisations and networks establish, manage and review partnerships and collaborative efforts, and provides training on various aspects of partnership.


Center for Ethical Leadership. (2007). The Collective Leadership Framework A Workbook for Cultivating and Sustaining Community Change. W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Heifetz, R., Grashow, A. & Linsky, M. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Ibarra. (H.) & Hansen, M.T. (2011). Are you a Collaborative Leader? How great CEOs keep their teams connected. Harvard Business Review (HBR). July-August, 2011. pp. 69-74.

Krebs, V. & Holley, J. (2002-2006). Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving.


Ospina, S. & Foldy, E.G. (2015). Enacting Collective Leadership in a Shared-Power World. In Perry, J. & Christensen, R.K. (Eds), Handbook of Public Administration (3rd ed., pp.489-507). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Wiley.