You know the examples of leaders that set and drive a culture.

Steve Jobs set a culture of perfection and exactitude and Apple has enjoyed an uninterrupted run of technologically complex but beautifully simple, game changing products. Richard Branson sets a culture of brash innovation and Virgin Atlantic is the first commercial airline to initiate a space traveling component.

You hear about innovative leaders, visionary leaders, empathic leaders and number-crunching leaders…it’s a less frequent occurrence to celebrate the collaborative leader.

This shouldn’t be the case–the crux of how successful a business is relies on how well and how efficiently people can work together. We’d like to think it’s only about the idea or the technological might, but few are the companies that can simply code their way to innovative success (these are celebrated too by the way).

More often than not, even in the most technologically advanced companies, people working with one another drives business. In fact 91% of today’s workforce is a part of one or more teams!

The largest group of thinkers in our database numbers only 17% of the population. At best, just under 1/5th of nearly your entire organization is going to come at problems and ideas from a similar thinking mindset. Add in differing behavioral tendencies and the number shrinks to almost nil.

Collaboration is necessary…but it isn’t easy. The interdependency required at every level of work is amazing, from setting and attending a meeting, to delivering a budget to actually performing stated roles.

What can drive higher performance though is the commitment and energy of those at the top. A leader who understands difference, demonstrates cooperative learning and performance techniques, and shows real, true benefits on a business level can empower an entire workforce.

Flowery language about coming together can’t inspire true collaboration. Leaders need to:

1. Ensure a diverse leadership team – If a leader is a strong analytically minded individual who pushes ideas forward at all costs, the leadership team should exhibit big picture thinkers who sell ideas, highly relational people who can bring the right people to the table, and detailed, focused and level-headed planners to ensure things stay on track.

2. Employ diverse approaches to challenges – If you want an organization that pushes the envelope, then the same solutions won’t work for everything. But one person isn’t responsible for coming up with new ideas—seek out a new tactic for new problems and don’t limit where they come from.

3. Demonstrate the effectiveness of collaboration – The biggest way to walk the walk is to show employees how collaboration makes a difference. It’s not enough to point to a diverse leadership team – go beyond this to say How they each contributed to initiatives that drive the
company and What kind of perspective was critical to new solutions or ideas.

Complex collaboration is a high level skill. It takes effort. But engaging in the type of behavior that breeds a climate of collaborative behavior can pay big dividends.