8 Differences Between Traditional and Collaborative Leaders

Posted by jartese on Nov 21, 2013 7:25:12 PM

The modern workplace is changing. As businesses seek innovative solutions to a challenging economic environment, companies are trying different approaches to increase productivity, engage workers and encourage growth. The traditional leadership style of top down management is slowly evolving into a collaborative approach that empowers employees and blurs the lines between boss and worker.

As more companies adopt a culture of open innovation a new style of leadership is emerging. Collaborative leaders take a more open approach in the workplace. Team building and power sharing are replacing the traditional forms of corporate hierarchy. The role of leadership is evolving into a broad based team building approach that encourages creative thought in the workplace. Internal “crowd sourcing” is opening up new paths to corporate growth and in the process, creating a new business model that gives employees more ownership of their work than ever before. The future is most definitely collaborative.

Here is a comparative look at eight major differences between the traditional leadership approach and the new style of collaborative leadership.


1. Power

Traditional Leaders: The traditional corporate approach to power is one of singular authority. Traditional leaders in the corporate world believe that their power derives from their position of authority. Old school corporate hierarchy often bestows power based on longevity with a secondary look at prior results. The longer you stay with your firm, the farther up the ladder you progress, the greater your power.

Collaborative Leaders: The new approach of collaborative leadership recognizes that power is greatest in a collective team. By encouraging equal participation across all levels, collaborative leaders allow solutions to develop from the best ideas of the group and take a team approach to problem solving.

2. Information

Traditional: Maintaining ownership of information is the hallmark of traditional leaders. From a power perspective, information is power. Releasing information on a “need to know” basis allows traditional leaders to maintain authority and control.

Collaborative:  Open information sharing is the cornerstone of collaborative leadership. Getting everyone on the same page in a project requires information sharing. Education also plays a role. The more cross training available, the more creative approaches to problem solving can develop and be implemented.

3. Idea Generation

Traditional:  Traditional managers will occasionally entertain suggestions or be open to ideas from their team.  In a top down hierarchy, the decisions generally come from the executives at the top of the food chain. Because information is closely held, management may know of circumstances that drive the decision making process that may be withheld from team members.

Collaborative: The art of collaboration gives everyone on the team a voice. Leaders are generally open to suggestions and ideas from their team and recognize that brainstorming and different perspectives can bring unique insights.

4.  Problem Solving

Traditional: In a traditional corporate culture, solutions are generally delivered to team members. These decisions are made in the boardroom or the executive suite, approved and passed on.

Collaborative: In a collaborative environment, solutions are brainstormed among team members and facilitated by management. Collaborative leaders recognize the power of a group approach to problem solving.

5.  Resource Allocation

Traditional: The traditional approach to resource allocation is generally reactive. Resources are provided only when deemed necessary by upper management and often brought to a committee for approval prior to deployment. This process takes time and focus away from a project and can result in stress being placed on the team by forcing them to deal with issues or challenges without the necessary resources.

Collaborative: A collaborative environment is based on trust and resources may be delivered proactively. Team leaders will enable their teams to flourish by providing resources and allocating time, quickly. This allows projects to develop more rapidly, as employees have access to the corporate resources (time, money, materials) necessary to do their jobs efficiently.

6. Rules and Responsibilities

Traditional: Traditional corporate culture relies on a series of rules, regulations and a hierarchy that force managers and team leaders to adhere to specific roles and responsibilities for both them and their teams. This can stifle the creative process and result in team members working in relative isolation as information and resources are shared and provided on a “needs” basis.

Collaborative: In a collaborative environment teams are encouraged to work together. Information, resources, knowledge, time and effort are shared. This allows roles and responsibilities to evolve and fluctuate based on the greater good.

7.  Resolving Issues

Traditional:  In a traditional culture issues are often dealt with on an individual basis with no regard to the root cause of the problem. This keeps managers fighting fires instead of instituting beneficial change that could prevent issues from arising.

Collaborative: The basis of collaborative leadership is trust. Because team members are given more responsibility for their work, leaders are often more involved in the process. This means that as issues arise they are often dealt with swiftly. Collaborative leaders look for the root cause of conflict as it arises, and address solutions promptly to keep work moving forward.

8.  Performance and Feedback

Traditional: Most traditional corporations practice a semi-annual or annual review process based on corporate policy. This can be detrimental to employee morale. If an employee has had a banner year, but in the last month missed a deadline or a project they were managing ran over budget, it can result in a negative performance review. This can damage morale and increase turnover as employees who feel they were unfairly judged may seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Collaborative: The nature of a collaborative environment means that leaders and team members are equally valued and work closely together on a daily basis. This gives the opportunity for immediate feedback, praise and constructive criticism. A collaborative environment is nurturing and offers the opportunity to share knowledge and educate members on an ongoing basis. Collaborative leaders often share their knowledge and experience by offering ongoing personalized coaching to other team members.


Traditional leadership has served corporate culture well since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In a world of manufacturing, traditional approaches work. They allow executives to understand the market and make decisions based on information that is not necessarily important to lower level employees who have specific functions with the organization.

As we’ve entered the information age, and competition has become a worldwide phenomenon, new forms of leadership are beginning to emerge and take hold. Spurred on by a challenging economic environment, and international competition, companies are seeking new paths to growth. Workers are seeking more autonomy and engagement in their daily work. Collaborative leadership is the future of business. It addresses concerns both at the corporate and individual level and offers solutions that can result in increased business opportunities, personal and professional satisfaction for employees and innovation leading to growth for the corporate bottom-line.

A collaborative environment is creative, innovative and beneficial to any organization. Change can be difficult, but putting some collaborative techniques in place, is a smart business decision that pays dividends for the long hall. Does your company have a plan?


Topics: Innovation Insights

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