StrategyDriven Podcast Special Edition 2 – An Interview with Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength

StrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag posts on the StrategyDriven website.

Special Edition 2 – An Interview with Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength explores the relationship challenges that can hinder optimal team performance and how to overcome them. During our discussion, Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer and partner at the Monitor Group, a global management consulting firm, shares with us her insights regarding:

  • the importance of relationships to team performance
  • tools executives and managers can use to improve their business relationships
  • how third parties support, accelerate, and solidify improved relationships
  • how personality types, as defined by measures such as DiSC and MBTI, fit into her relationship improvement model
  • the complex web of relationships that exist within organizations and teams

Additional Information

Complimenting the invaluable insights Diana shares in Divide or Conquer and this special edition podcast, are the additional relationship building materials and resources found on her websites, Diana McLain Smith (, Action Design (, and Monitor Group (

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Diana McLain SmithDiana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength, is a partner at the Monitor Group, a global management consulting firm and founding partner of Action Design, a small firm specializing in organizational learning and professional development. For the past 25 years, Diana has advised leaders and their teams on how to build relationships strong enough to master their toughest challenges. She has taught courses and delivered lectures at the Harvard Law School, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. To read Diana’s full biography, click here.

Why collaborative leaders will always win

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Collaboration|Why collaborative leaders will always winCollaboration is the biggest buzzword in business right now. Along with company culture, it is the zeitgeist of the modern business landscape. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, agile, innovative businesses that are able to attract and retain talent, are those with the greatest chance of success.

Collaborative leaders understand this. They know instinctively that everyone in the organisation has something to offer. They believe in their human assets and create an environment that allows employees to offer ideas and opinions of their own.

You will only find truly collaborative leaders in organisations with strong and positive cultures. They go hand in hand. This is because real collaboration can only happen in a psychologically safe space where people feel respected, supported and comfortable speaking up.

So, what is it about collaborative leadership that helps a business succeed? Here I’ll be putting collaboration under the spotlight and exploring the reasons why collaborative leadership is so effective. First, let’s take a look at what collaborative leadership is.

What does collaborate leadership look like?

Leaders who understand the importance of collaboration in business have a belief system that everyone has the ability to develop, learn and contribute. This approach is known as growth mindset.

Collaborative leaders with a growth mindset have a very significant set of traits (see more on these below). Importantly, they are able to facilitate interactions, are highly effective communicators and always seek to inspire others. They flatten the traditional hierarchy seen in so many businesses and allow leaders to emerge. There is no place for micromanagement.

Justin Aldridge, Technical Director at Artemis Marketing, understands the importance of his team in the drive to be the most forward-thinking and innovative digital SEO agency around. “Listening to our people is what helps us to be thought-leaders in a highly competitive field.

“Our Rocket Projects draw on people across teams from the highly technical SEO team to our exceptionally creative in-house content writers. I’ve been blown away by the ideas that have come from the most unusual combinations of people in our business.”

In an article for Forbes on the crucial behaviours of collaborative leaders, Carol Kinsey Goman, international keynote speaker and leadership coach, says “A collaborative team isn’t a group of people working together. It’s a group of people working together who trust each other.”

Why collaborative leadership is so effective

Collaborating in business doesn’t really have any drawbacks (unless it is implemented clumsily as an afterthought, and not led by someone who truly understands the benefits, in which case it’s not really collaboration in the true sense).

Collaborative leadership is effective largely because of these three things:

1. Learning and problem-solving

Collaboration propels a business into a culture of on-going learning. This is vital for both company innovation and the progress and development of staff. When employees are encouraged to pool knowledge and skills to overcome problems and find solutions, everyone benefits. Projects move forward, employees learn new skills and learn to trust each other, and the business achieves goals and delivers to clients. This forward-looking approach enables businesses to be infinitely more agile. See more about why businesses need to be agile here.

2. Honesty, openness and trust

Collaboration, when facilitated correctly in business, creates a culture of honesty, openness and trust. Honesty is perhaps one of the most important principles of leadership.

Honest leaders are much more able to build loyalty and trust. There is great power in telling the truth. This doesn’t mean using truth to hurt people. Being radically candid is about being open and honest and not trying to protect people by underplaying problems.

The key difference in the approach of a highly successful collaborative leader is in their ability to listen, understand and discuss problems. For collaborative leaders, the focus is on solving a problem, not blaming a particular person.

Being a highly successful collaborative leader isn’t easy. It’s actually hard work. Sometimes uncomfortable truths have to be shared. But, honesty, metred with integrity, helps and encourages people. It doesn’t shoot people down.

3. Collaboration improves communication and boosts morale

When people are given the opportunity to contribute, grow connections and work together, morale gets a boost. Collaborative efforts rely on effective communication, but in reverse they also contribute to an improvement in working relationships and better communication.

Consider the opposite. In a business where collaboration is poor and teams operate in silos, it is impossible to build trust. Where there’s a lack of trust, you’ll find low morale. See how to make communication and collaboration in the workplace easier here.

Crucial behaviours of a collaborative leader

Collaborative leaders recognise the importance of interpersonal relationships and cross-team collaborations. Truly collaborative leaders are:

  • Curious
  • Generous
  • Appreciative
  • Exceptional listeners
  • Deeply knowledgeable
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Respectful
  • Diplomatic
  • Accountable
  • Team focused

Good at asking the right questions

They don’t balk at uncertainty or bad ideas. They embrace ambiguity, they discuss it. They turn every idea over and over to find the best ones. Crucially, successful collaborative leaders coach teams to feel OK about failure and not feel stupid if an idea is binned. Every idea is part of a process, and that includes the ones that don’t amount to anything.

Last, but by no means least, collaborative leaders act with integrity at all times and genuinely care about ALL of the people in their business.

Collaboration is no longer a nice-to-have philosophy. To win in business, collaboration is an essential part of business strategy. This can only flourish in businesses with leaders who have what it takes to unleash the best from their people.

Tips For Being A Better Boss & Manager

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Better Boss|Tips For Being A Better Boss & ManagerBeing in charge is nice because you get to call the shots but can also be a very difficult position to be in. You have other people relying on you to improve the business and to make sure you’re all achieving your goals.

There’s a lot to think about and attend to, and it can be tempting to have your ego get in the way of doing what’s right. If you want to truly be a better boss and manager, then you have to commit to following through in a couple of areas in particular. Accept that you’ll make mistakes along the way, but what’s most important is that you learn from them and stay flexible with your approach.

Take Care of Yourself

You can be a better boss and manager by being consistent about taking good care of yourself. This includes controlling your mood by eating healthy foods and choosing to exercise regularly. Stay hydrated after breaking a sweat by stocking up on plenty of Halo Sport so you can replenish your body with all of your lost fluids. You’ll find you perform better at work when you have a lot of natural energy to carry you through the day and are committed to practicing self-care.

Have A Positive Attitude

It’s also important that as the boss and manager, you maintain a positive attitude around the office. Your employees are watching you and looking up to you and view you as a role model. Therefore, prove to them you’re the right person for the position by not letting your emotions get the best of you. Encourage others to keep up the good work and to continue on strong even when there are problems to tackle and obstacles to face.

Learn to Delegate out Tasks

You’re going to be doing yourself a favor when you learn how to delegate out tasks properly. You’ll be able to focus more on critical matters such as how to run a better business when you do so properly and regularly. You can be a better boss and manager by making sure your employees are staying busy and challenged on a daily basis.
Check in with them often and make sure they feel that the work they’re doing is putting their skills to good use and is rewarding. It’s your job as the boss to ensure everyone on your team is contributing to the bigger picture and aren’t sitting around with nothing to do.

Avoid Playing Favorites

While it’s okay to build relationships with your employees and subordinates, you do want to stay away from playing favorites. Recognize individuals based on their annual evaluations and daily performance versus whose personality you find the most appealing. You can be a better boss and manager and get more done when you avoid office politics and don’t cause or create drama around the workplace. Instead, focus on motivating the team as a whole and seeing who steps up and stands out all on their own.

Be an Employee Influencer

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Influencer|Be an Employee InfluencerI have read that 85 percent of us are unlikely to make big changes in our lives without some kind of outside influence. That means that only 15 percent of people unilaterally decide to make changes and then follow through and do it on their own. Translation: Most of us need someone we trust to influence us either by their words or their actions. Effective leadership is really about influence.

Influence, at its core, is the reward of investing in your employees and helping someone transform. The result of that influence is a gift that your people will give you when you pursue them well and care enough to engage with them to make needed changes. And caring enough is the secret sauce to making all of this work.

The truth is, the positive effect of influence can be seen in all our relationships, not just at work. Think of your personal relationships with your friends or family members. For example, I, as a parent, desperately want to influence my children in a positive way. But if I haven’t invested in them well enough as a dad, they won’t look to me as a role model or request my advice, and they will not be open to my influence. The same is true for your employees.

Recognize Opportunities to Influence

Being an employee influencer is one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership. If you have invested well enough in your employees, they will seek your influence. You have to learn to look for this, become aware of when they’re seeking it, and not miss the opportunity when it presents itself. That can be easy to do if you’re not paying close attention.

For example, through the course of a typical work day while I’m reviewing projects and tasks with my team, an employee may ask questions about how they would like me to have them manage a project or accomplish a task. When this happens, it would be easy for me as a leader to misunderstand the individual’s intentions and think they’re trying to abdicate responsibility or get me to solve their problems for them. In actuality, they are requesting my influence without asking for it directly. When this happen to you, take it as a sign that you have invested well in that employee. On the other hand, you may have an employee who never seeks your advice. This may be a sign that you haven’t invested in them enough. Pay attention to both and calibrate your time and attention accordingly for each.

Here’s another example: A member of my senior leadership team is being considered for a promotion to the executive leadership team. We—the executive leaders and I—have invested greatly in this person personally and professionally. We enjoy spending time with her, and we want to see her succeed. We’ve been persistent in letting her know, “We’re for you.”

Recently, I invited her to an executive meeting. She was asked a question and sort of stumbled over the answer. This stumble felt like failure to her. She felt like this one moment might impede her rise to executive leadership in our organization.

Later that day, she came to my office.

“I feel like I really blew it at the meeting,” she said. “Everyone else had such terrific responses to your questions, but I didn’t know what to say.” I asked her why she felt that way, and she told me that she hadn’t properly prepared for the meeting. Then she asked, “What do I need to do to be able to better answer questions in these meetings?” What I heard was “How do I improve?” That’s what every leader wants to hear from their people. It was gratifying and encouraging. It also confirmed what we all were thinking about her ability to move to bigger responsibilities within our organization.

She wasn’t asking me, “How do I fix it?” It was so much more than that. She was asking for my influence. She was saying, in so many words, “I’m seeking your counsel and advice. What do I need to do next in order to live out my version of success?”

I gave her my thoughts on the issue and she responded by saying that she was going to follow up. My guess is she’ll be better prepared for our next meeting and the questions that might arise there.

And this is how you’ll know your influence is working. It’s what happens after you do or say it. Influence is only successful when another person responds to your words or deeds and does something about the issue, whatever it may be.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Chris MeroffChris Meroff has spent more than 25 years supporting leaders in education at both the campus and district levels. Through his work in 17 states and across thousands of school districts, he’s seen firsthand the frustration administrators feel when their efforts don’t produce the alignment they desire. He’s made a career of testing new leadership ideas to see what works—and what doesn’t—in service-oriented leadership. His business, Alignment Leadership Consulting, exists to teach leaders how they can boldly pursue a workplace culture that prioritizes employee fulfillment. You can learn more at

How to Keep Your Team Agile and Aligned Under Pressure

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | How to Keep Your Team Agile and Aligned Under Pressure
As a leader, you are constantly trying to maximize the magical effort to effectiveness equation (a.k.a. efficiency). You can see this play out in your daily operations and ultimately in the P&L. However, there is an intangible asset that is very difficult to quantify — but without it you cannot ultimately succeed. This asset is, of course, alignment.

Alignment matters because it is an amalgamation of understanding, agreement, buy-in, engagement, empowerment, and accountability.

It amazes me how few leaders understand how to harness, measure, leverage, and ultimately achieve true alignment behind their strategies and objectives. Too many leaders assume that just because they have spoken, their teams are all on the same page with them — and everything will proceed from there. Achieving true alignment takes a significant allocation of effort. But there is a direct correlation between the extent of alignment and the results achieved.

Therefore, it is in your best interest as a leader to focus more on achieving, gauging, and calibrating alignment than almost any other executional activity. The good news is that achieving alignment is more science than art — meaning that there are tools that work nearly every time in getting people behind an idea, strategy, or mission. Below, allow me to present three of my favorites:

1. Define and Drive organizational culture. Culture is the glue that holds an organization together. It’s often the reason behind why people choose to stay with your company over jumping ship to a competitor. As a leader, it is your role to create, foster, and harness culture against organizational objectives. Conduct focus groups, one on one’s, and surveys to get a strong grip on the current state of your business culture. Then define a desired state for the values and behavior you expect to see on display daily, and embody them in everything you do.

Once you are well on your way towards your desired cultural state, you need to then define your business’s hedgehog concept. This is time very well spent because it takes your underlying culture and applies it to specific business problems. By deriving the intersection of three key questions: what are we wildly passionate about, what can we do better than anyone else, and what drives our economic engine, you set a direction for people that is easy to align with. Ask the three questions at all levels of the organization, calibrate the responses, and then package the inputs into an easily digestible reason for organizational being that relates to the majority of your enterprise. Then you can focus organizational attention on how you are doing, not on what you are doing — or even worse, why you are doing it.

2. Don’t just communicate, connect. When you give a presentation on your business strategy, key priorities, and other initiatives, how often do you check (either via polls, surveys, show of hands) what people understood from your communication, what they are taking away, and whether or not they agree? Many leaders are scared to ask these types of questions because they don’t like being second-guessed. Still, it’s better to be second-guessed than to be zero-followed! Taking the time to gauge the degree to which key messages are landing, as well as whether the audience is aligned, is probably the most important investment you can make as a leader.

Once you know where your participants are on a given issue, the next step is to connect the dots for them. Do the hard work of helping them see what you see and understand why you are making these choices. Allow them to question, build on, and enhance your ideas. And finally, move forward, together.

3. Keep it very simple. It is relatively easy to stick to one road, drive the speed limit, buckle up for safety, and arrive at your destination both on time and with all passengers on board. Once you start introducing shortcuts, detours, scenic routes, and bypasses into the mix, you are almost destined to lose some people along the way. No one (besides Forrest Gump maybe) meanders their way to success. You pick a destination based on the best available information (expected weather, road conditions, permitted speed), calculate the mileage, gas expense, and time to arrival, and then start driving in as straight a line as possible until you reach your desired location, or in this case desired mission, goal, or objective.

Leaders who jump from highway to highway, seemingly without rationale, are leaders who lose the power of an organization primed and focused on achieving results. You have to know when to forge ahead, when to change course, and when to abandon ship — but at each inflection point, the more important concept to remember is that you need to reengage the enterprise when change is afoot, and never assume that people know the key why’s and what’s and how’s behind the new direction.

About the Author

Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Please follow him on instagramtwitterLinkedIn, and/or his website for more information and engagement.