Hero Circle Original

Why collaborative projects need effective leadership

This month I’ve been reflecting on leadership in the run up to a course. What is leadership? How do you define and measure it? And importantly, how can you get better at it?

The dictionary defines a leader as ‘someone that ranks first, precedes others or holds a principal position, somebody who has commanding authority or influence’. As a natural collaborator, I must admit my instincts are a bit less hierarchical – I naturally tend towards a more participatory style, rather than looking up to a single all-knowing authority within a group. So I like this definition, from Les McKeown, who defines leadership as ‘helping any group of … people achieve their common goals’. This really resonates because it reflects the type of joint working frameworks that we create at Dovetail, and the role we seek to play in supporting our clients and their stakeholders.

The leadership course – at Cranfield School of Management – introduced me to some different insights, including the fascinating concept that the best leadership tools we have at our disposal are listening and language. It’s a deceptively simple but profound idea: we make things happen with other people through conversations. If that’s the case, then we need to understand different types of conversation as building blocks. The reason some projects founder may be due to the lack of an appropriate conversation that would have ensured the team understood what we were trying to do; a plan that seems flawless on paper may not fly simply because nobody took the time to make everyone feel involved and valued.

This approach matches my experience of joint working projects – when I look back at the most successful, I can see that the right conversations had taken place. And I can see now where conversations were missing or could have been improved in some of the more challenging projects. To make collaboration really effective between pharma and clinical stakeholders, we need leadership that’s clearly focused on common goals, that’s empowering and supportive, and that’s sophisticated enough to listen to all the voices, and construct the right conversations to drive really patient-focused action. When we have all these components together, we can do anything.