Attributes of Leadership – Cooperation


Successful leaders must understand and apply the principle of cooperative effort and be able to induce followers to do the same. Leadership calls for power, and power calls for cooperation Napoleon Hill

Cooperation[This is the eleventh and last in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

Nature tells us that cooperation is necessary. For example, baboons and impalas work together on the African plains to form an early warning system. The impalas’ heightened sense of smell complements the baboons’ keen eyesight, making undetected approach by predators difficult at best. Also consider a colony of ants, arguably the most predominant example of organization. These animals instinctively know what Napoleon Hill states above. In their case, cooperation is essential to survival! (See “The Role of Cooperation in Nature.” Awake! September 8, 2005, p. 3)

Note that Mr. Hill lists cooperation as an essential element of power. Although we’ve all heard of those who “seize power,” in reality it’s given to us by others. They choose to follow us (let us lead) because they find in us qualities they admire. Present any example of the exercise of power (whether positive and negative), and in all you’ll see how those in power receive it from their followers. Therefore, if you want success, you need to engender a spirit of cooperation in others. As John Maxwell said, “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”

How do we promote a spirit of cooperation in others? What changes will we have to make personally, and are there things we must guard against as we develop this attribute? Let’s find out.

Promoting Cooperation

People cooperate when they have a common goal or belief. Additionally, they must also agree about the methodology and leadership. Thus, as a leader, you must first have a worthy goal, one that inspires others. For an organization, their vision statement embodies this goal. It shows what the organization wants to accomplish and the effect it will have once they achieve that goal. Drew McLellan says a vision statement describes “what the future will be like because you deliver on [your company’s] mission so brilliantly every day.” For example, The Future Project embodies its vision by stating, “At The Future Project, we see the problem simply: Our students aren’t pursuing their dreams. We’re out to turn high schools into Future Schools, where students develop the skills to do just that.” Simply and succinctly, they let us know they hope to transform the school system (what they hope to accomplish) and produce students equipped to pursue their dreams (the effect accomplishing their goal produces). It is an inspiring vision, and they’ve already drawn many people through this compelling vision.

Following the vision is the methodology and the management. In order to have people cooperate, they must feel confident that the manner in which you plan to bring your vision to life is both worthwhile and sound. You can often find this in an organization’s mission statement, a description of “what you do best every day,” according to Mr. McLellan. Yet, even with the best of plans helping to accomplish the noblest of goals, you’ll find cooperation a challenge without a person or persons behind whom others are willing to walk. I realize that’s a bit of a paradox. Here we’re discussing cooperation as an attribute of leadership, and I’ve just said you can’t have true cooperation without an effective leader. Still, if you manage to master the other 10 leadership attributes, you will foster a cooperative spirit among those who follow, provided you have a compelling vision and a worthwhile, sound methodology (mission) by which they accomplish that vision.

Cooperation May Require Change

One key element in promoting cooperation is communication. You may have the most compelling vision ever conceived by man, yet if you can’t clearly relate it to others it’s of no use to you (or anyone else). An article by the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) discusses the various dynamics of teams and the cooperative challenges they present. To overcome these challenges, CMOE suggests, “To promote teamwork, you must address several critical issues. For starters, you should open the lines of communication within the team” (italics added). If your vision is clearly understood but you don’t clearly tell others what you expect them to do on a daily basis, you’ll promote frustration, not cooperation. If you’re challenged in this area, address the problem. Does it stem from an old school ideal, a “my way or the highway” attitude? Do you avoid confrontation? Perhaps you feel that adults are able to work out their challenges, so all you have to do is give them the basic outline and they’ll manage the details? These attitudes likely are at the root of your problems. While I don’t advocate micro-management, it’s unrealistic that everyone on a team fully understands the needs of a particular project without frank, open discussions.

Identifying the problem is the first step. What are some things you can do to improve your communication skills? Here are some suggestions (read the full article here):

  • Think before you speak. Have the points you want to communicate clearly in mind. This keeps what you say focused, leading to greater clarity.
  • Be an active listener. Don’t underestimate the power of listening! You can hear what others say, and what they don’t say. A principle I always enjoy is found at James 1:19, which says in part, “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” Sage advice for us all.
  • Make good eye contact. This may not communicate concepts, but it definitely communicates confidence. If you can’t look others in the eyes, you appear untrustworthy. That defeats your ultimate goal of fostering cooperation.
  • Take it slow. Speaking too fast often leads to slurred, unintelligible speech. Slow down so can enunciate well and properly pronounce words.
  • Use appropriate volume and tone. This varies depending on the circumstances. In general, you want to communicate feeling. Varying your pace, pitch, and power makes what you say more pleasant, and emphasizes key ideas.
  • Practice. If you want to communicate better, make effective speech part of your everyday life. The more you do so, the better you communicate.

Cooperation is important, and as leaders you must develop your ability to promote a cooperative spirit in others. Yet it’s not something you can rush. The caveat here is expecting too much too soon. Developing cooperation takes time and effort, but the rewards far outweigh the work. If you have a compelling vision, a worthy and effective mission, and develop your communication skills, you’ll inspire the spirit of cooperation in others.

This brings our “Attributes of Leadership” series to an end, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ll miss knowing the topic of my next article weeks in advance. However, I’m also looking forward to branching out and tackling topics pertinent to small and medium-sized businesses. In any event, let me know what you thought of the series. Also, let me know the topics you want covered. Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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