Collaborative leadership – an unexploited resource

Collaborative leadership is a primary strength for both educational leadership and management education. The biggest obstacles for exploiting the strength may be constant rush and over-scaled demands for efficiency. This was proved by ENTREE (Collaborative Enhancement of Transitions in Lifespan Learning Pathways by means of Distributed Pedagogical Leadership), a research project funded by the Academy of Finland.

The project, implemented between 2009 and 2014, was led by Professor of Educational Leadership Aini-Kristiina Jäppinen while she was working as Academy Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä. According to Jäppinen, collaborative leadership can help provide flexible and unbroken learning paths for students. It also enables the use of the skill and knowledge capacity of the entire community.

If research results so clearly prove the positive effects of collaborative leadership, why is it not exploited more widely as an ecological resource in educational and other organisations?

"The biggest obstacles may be constant rush and overscaled demands for efficiency," says Professor Jäppinen.

Professor Jäppinen has studied the dynamics of collaborative leadership in Finnish educational institutions as well as in French management education. Based on these results, she has built an ideal model to help organisations better understand and develop collaborative leadership.

Collaborative leadership is not just teamwork or distribution of tasks.

"It's invisible but still something recognisable, something that gives a community its characteristics. It's synergy, not just working together," she summarises. 

Carelessly prepared renewals cause tension

The results of the project showed that macro-level changes that have been prepared too quickly and carelessly might cause tensions that inhibit the development of collaborative leadership. As a solution, Jäppinen suggests micro-procedural reforms, which guarantee a slow but safe, durable and efficient path towards tomorrow’s leadership.

"Collaborative leadership is a constantly changing state. It receives its positive energy from the community as a whole," Jäppinen describes.

"It has an ability to take into consideration and accept different 'voices' from inside the organisation and to listen within dialogue. This enables the creation of meanings that are commonly accepted and understood in the community," she adds.

Collaborative leadership means flexible assertiveness that at the same time takes into account both present and future realities and needs. Commitment and responsibility regarding the values and principles of the organisation are also part of it, both on the individual and group levels. Open negotiation and emotional support for the community members are relevant as well. Other characteristics include wise decisions and efficient decision-making processes.

More information:

"Successful together! Ten keys for collaborative leadership" will be published in English at the end of 2014.

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