Leadership and Collaboration

03 November 2012


A colleague at the University drew my attention to a recent article on being a PhD student in computer science, describing how to lead from below. Its a good article, filled with useful advice to PhD students learning how to engage with people in other roles. I also think it describes very well the approach that academics, e-learning support staff and innovators should be taking more generally in the university.

As the article notes, most people think of leadership as something which is the responsibility of a select few, something which is received from those in senior roles and acted upon by those in junior ones. An alternative model is to realise that leadership in a wider professional sense involves the ability to identify and set goals for your own work and to be able to influence others effectively in the achievement of those goals.

Anyone with a passion for their work has ideas on how it can be improved, often this requires the involvement of others. What many people fail to recognise is that they are often the only one in an organisation who can recognise the potential for improvement in those particular things. Leadership at all levels involves working out a viable strategy to turn that potential into reality.

The article suggests the strategy of aligning your ideas with the goals of others in more power and then working to reinforce the sense that your ideas are resulting in positive outcomes. I can't argue with that strategy; it's not as cynical as it might appear either. Change always requires a context and I don't believe that there is only one way to achieve particular outcomes or even the outcomes can be predetermined exactly. Looking to find out what others are trying to achieve in your own context is an important way of understanding that context. Learning how to extract the value from your own ideas in ways that demonstrate synergy with other people's plans often will help you develop your ideas further. There's also the possibility that you'll create an effective collaborative relationship with others, no bad thing either.

One of the hardest things to learn is how to share your ideas and collaborate with others. When you have a great idea or passion it can be hard to share, to compromise the (imagined?) purity of your conception. Experience has taught me that every time you involve someone else in your ideas they stimulate new ways of thinking, new possibilities, and they always improve the final outcome. Leadership is about understanding the value that working with others has and taking personal responsibility for making it happen, no matter how important you think you might be in your organisation.