Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increasing interest in establishing alliances and partnerships among the C-Suite. CEO studies conducted by consultancy companies have emphasised this interest and in a recent article,  David Tierno, CGI’s Vice President of Strategic Alliances, shared key insights on the growing importance of strategic alliances across sectors. David highlighted in the article, how strategic alliances have always been important but that their importance is increasing as industries evolve. 

An increasing amount of alliances & partnerships for a company also demands different leadership styles within that company; a collaborative leadership style. 

In the past, external parties were predominantly suppliers. Dealing with them was generally undertaken by the procurement department. Elements such as on time delivery, quality and price were among the elements on which suppliers were selected. Negotiation with suppliers also took place around these parameters, whereby price was often used to get the best deal for the buying customer. Leadership sufficed with a clear boundary between “us and them”, inside and outside the company.

An organisation that relies more and more on external alliances & partnerships to achieve their strategy needs a collaborative leadership style. Focus has to be on “we”, which is about the company and its partners. Negotiation with external parties follows a “Getting to WE”* like methodology and looks for the best deal for the partnership, instead of just for one of the parties.

For many leaders this will be a 180° shift. These leaders were raised in an environment where the distinction between the company and external parties was clear. Trust was fine, but control was essential. In this new partnership era control is fine, but probably non-existing, and trust is essential. This requires a change in leadership style both internally in the company and externally with partners. More than ever leaders need to be able to build relationships inside and outside the company. They need to understand that control, and also risk and reward, are now shared and they need to act accordingly in order to enable effective alliances & partnerships. Employees need to be empowered and trusted to do the right thing, for the sake of the partnership.

A good source of information to guide you on your collaborative leadership journey is the book Collaborative Leadership* by David Archer and Alex Cameron. Both David and Alex have been guests in my previous podcast. In my conversation with Alex, we explored what it means for a leader to be a collaborative leader. In it, Alex shared a story about the MD of London Underground as an example of a leader who understands why collaboration is essential to improve the organisation and what it takes to be a collaborative leader. In the conversation with David, we discussed how leaders should work with their partners whereby David puts a high emphasis on collaborating at the intersections of relationships.