The Collaborative Leader’s Most Powerful Tool: Expansion

An entrepreneur friend of mine has built and sold eight companies. His new venture is a massive, important economic development project that requires the simultaneous launch of three or four different companies with a large number and variety of partners.

As my friend told me about his plans, I found myself leaning farther and farther back in my chair — as if to increase my focal length for a wider view so I could attempt to grasp it all.

Finally, I raised my gaze over his head to the sky to find a space large enough to grasp the enormity of his vision.

I was so impressed with the size of his “game” that I asked him, “How is it that you think so big?”

He answered, “I have to think that big to have a chance to create anything worthwhile at all.”

When I asked how he planned to keep the game manageable, he replied that he didn’t plan to manage it.

He believes firmly that when he’s clarified the opportunity sufficiently and attracted talented people to the opportunity, all he will need to do is grab ahold of the part where he can best add value and ride along.

What a difference there is between managing and leading.

Managers are taught to envision things they can completely control. They operate, thereby, in a realm of self-limited resources, i.e., small games.

Leaders, through their dedication to their vision, create opportunities that can attract an unlimited number of voluntary followers and resources.

Collaborative leaders create expansive opportunities for partners!

Expansion, the second key to collaboration, is the most powerful tool available to any leader.

The essence of expansion is opening to abundant opportunity, usually by reaching for a goal that is larger than you and requires many collaborators to achieve.

Here are some guidelines for generating expansion:

  1. An expansive goal must be larger than any participant can achieve by his/herself. Otherwise no one will need collaborators, and playing such a small game makes it easy to see others attracted to the opportunity as “threats.”
  2. The more expansive the goal, the more opportunity will be created. Some teams never turn away newcomers because they see every newcomer as an extender of opportunity. My firm Partnerwerks was once consulting to a save-the-customer team on a $60,000,000 account where the customer had threatened to de-source the supplier. The number of volunteers to the monthly customer-focus meetings swelled from eleven to thirty to seventy-five. The leaders welcomed all comers into the team and allowed them to self-organize into sub-teams to find ways to contribute. The result? In a little over a year, the customer not only re-committed but added another $190,000,000 to the account.
  3. We can either create a goal that attracts collaborators to us or generate a goal in conversation with chosen collaborators as a way to enrich the collaboration. Both approaches are widely used and successful. We–Partnerwerks–are currently working on what could be a very large joint venture with two partners. I identified the ill-defined opportunity and framed it well enough to attract the other partners. Now we are working together to better understand the opportunity and to c0-create clear and compelling goal for our venture.
  4. The greatest opportunities for expansion often arise from what appear to be the most scarce and threatening circumstances. Expert problem solvers and the most expansive leaders know that the greatest breakthroughs occurs where opportunity appears to be the most scarce (see this 2009 post for a fine example from a client). This is a fundamental principle of my approach to team building and team leadership.
  5. Expansive goals are usually so clear and specific that they require little if any measurement to verify they have been reached. (Example: To put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to Earth by the end of the decade.)
  6. Expansive goals are usually so bold that, when set, participants don’t yet know how they’re going to achieve the result. So the goal affords collaborators a sense of urgency and the need for learning and discovery. (Example: When Kennedy set the goal above, rocket scientists were only pretty sure they could launch a rocket and have it hit somewhere in the ocean.)
  7. Expanding a goal is one of the best ways to integrate people’s views. At the same time, integrating people’s views is one of the best ways to expand a goal. The actions–expand and integrate–are reciprocal.

This Week’s 5-Minute Practice Tip

This week, evoke expansion in one group gathering (a meeting, committee, family outing, lunch group, etc.) by posing this question: “What could we pursue together that would create attractive opportunity for each of us?”

As the conversation develops, apply the guidelines above and watch yourself raise the level of collaborative energy in the group.

Expansion is a powerful force! Start 2012 with a renewed belief in the power of collaborative teamwork that benefits everyone and will lead to expansion.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership, Teamwork on 01/23/2012 08:00 am
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