Review and Comments on “Collaborative Leadership”, an article by Arnoud DeMeyer of Cambridge, UK, about the trends affecting modern day organizations and the need for collaboration.

Review and Comments on “Collaborative Leadership”, an article by Arnoud DeMeyer of Cambridge, UK, about the trends affecting modern day organizations and the need for collaboration.

Review and comments (in blue) by Michael Soule. LeadTogether2014

This article by Arnoud DeMeyer from 2009 provides readers a deeper understanding of the trends in business and culture that are affecting the need for collaborative work in organizations. While the article is focused at a global scale, the insights De Meyer’s shares are relevant to our school movement. His introduction could easily be a description of the new qualities we need in school leadership. In the article, he also warns that the current definitions and literature about leadership are often conflicting or incoherent and popular approaches to how to prepare the coming generation of leaders (in our case young teachers) are inadequate. De Meyer points to the need to help young leaders develop new capacities for meeting and adapting to change. And while this premise is not new, he proposes that developing skills and competencies for collaboration are essential if our institutions are going to survive and thrive.

Leadership is often defined as the capability to successfully manage change in organizations. The way one manages change is to some extent contextual and influenced by the environment. The environment our future leaders have to operate in is quite different from what we were used to in the previous decade. Leadership styles therefore need adaptation.  ADM

De Meyer outlines 8 major shifts in culture that he believes are central to the need for new collaborative leadership. These are below with notes from me about their relevance to work in our schools:

What is changing in our environment?

De Meyer posits that the environment in which we need to innovate and implement change has changed dramatically. He attributes the changes to the following eight megatrends: (The trends are his, the comments are mine.)

1. Globalization

 As the world is becoming more and more diverse, our communities, our schools and ideas about education and schooling are also becoming ever more diverse. This requires us to have more strategies for dealing with diverse needs and ideas, not only from our children and parents but also from our colleagues and staff.

2. Fragmentation of the value chain (in school terms: More groups and volunteers taking on important tasks in the operation of the school)

It is not a matter of getting committees to do what the faculty or board dictates but letting smaller groups have more autonomy. This requires a greater degree than ever of values sharing and agreement. The more we use volunteers in important roles, the more orientation is needed. The more groups in the school, the more communication and alignment are needed. Every time we form a new group or accept a new child and family or hire a new teacher additional alignment is needed.

3. More knowledge workers (more specialists than generalists)

EC, Grade and HS teachers are drifting further apart as they become specialists in their pedagogical areas.  This presents increasing challenges for creating a sense of the whole. The school begins to operate more in parts and more and more energy is needed to keep the whole focused on a singular goal.

4. The increasing demands (and skepticism) of society (of Parents)

 Changing family demographics (more families with only one child, more older parents, more single parents, more parental pressure on children to succeed) requires teachers not only to be good pedagogical masters but also to be well versed on the vast array of new educational ideas and communication tools to deal with more involved and demanding parents.

We are coming out of a period in which teachers and schools were revered more than they are today. In the future, our teachers will increasingly need to justify their approach and actions to increasingly skeptical parents.  Adult education about the education will be increasingly important.

5. Dispersion of the sources of knowledge and innovation

In the future, more and more people will know more and more about the pedagogy and the operation of the school.  At the same time, schools will have faculties where the knowledge and experience base is more dispersed among colleagues.  The cohesion of the central group and its capacity to involve wider and wider circles will be more and more essential.

6. Changes in the structure of multinationals (from pyramidal to collections of networks)

 The challenge of having more administrative staff, educational support staff, cooperative groups, committees and networks in the school will require more attention to communication.  Intergroup collaboration will become more and more important.

7. Increased importance of risk management (considering the dynamics of actions and looking ahead)

In a non-hierarchical organization, the management of risks requires a lot of attention. As decision-making is more distributed, the small effects of minor mess-ups in different realms, for whatever reason, will undermine the trust that is essential for community building. We all will be tasked to listen more acutely and respond more quickly to people’s reactions to small mistakes.

8. The increase of social networking and information overload

The challenges of managing the school are greatly increasing by the demand for more and more, quicker and quicker information by parents about what is happening with their children and in the school as a whole. This, plus the proliferation of the Internet, email and texting capabilities -- and the subsequent weakened personal connection -- will be important challenges. We already know that more emails easily leads to weaker personal connections.

The new collaborative leader (in our terms, collegial leader)

 DE Meyer’s trends are general and interrelated but they can easily be seen to be active in our schools. Because Waldorf schools have been practicing collaborative operation longer than most organizations, we already have incorporated a lot of innovative and creative solutions.  We have trained ourselves gradually through practice. Our schools continue to be works in progress.  Therefore, by recognizing these challenges brought by emerging trends can help us understand when our actions are not successful.

DE Meyer’s goes on to write about the four areas that he believes are necessary for every individual to work on to meet these trends and practices that could help.




Influencing (What I would call Reality and Insight based decisioning)

Adaptability (Embracing and working with ambiguity)



Getting the right mindset (having the right imagination)

It is about understanding that others have capabilities and are prepared to share these with you in order to achieve change and innovation.  It is learning how to work on an equal basis with others. It is about being prepared to make the investments in relationships. It requires being prepared to recognize peers’ contribution. By good communication practices and value alignment, people can grow to appreciate that one can accomplish much more in a collaborative environment than alone.


Reducing transaction costs (managing the amount of time energy needed to work out of collaboration)

In the long run, collaboration, like consensus saves time and energy, but in the process one must be willing to appreciate the ways in which slower processes facilitate the building of stronger community and more overall value throughout the organization.

Working beyond the borders of the organization (continually building the relationship between the organization and the community)

Building consensus (inclusive advancement)

One of the risks of a more collaborative organization is that values begin to decrease towards the least common denominator and overall the organization loses vitality. It is essential that paths be found to renew the highest values of a school.

5. Ability to network

Everyone involved in the organization will be called upon to become more social in the process. Our schools already have a very social model, but it will be important that the social working within groups and between groups is genuine and regularly renewed.


6. Managing polarities

 Real collaborative work requires a new emphasis on embracing differences and identifying, understanding and embracing polarities. (Work / life, parent as partner/consumer, school as business/cultural endeavor)

About the author

Arnoud DE MEYER is the President of Singapore Management University. Previously Professor of Management Studies at the University of Cambridge (UK) and Director of Judge Business School. He was also a visiting professor at the Universities of Kiel (Germany), Ghent and Antwerp (Belgium) and Waseda and Keio University (Japan).


Find the original article here Collaborative Leadership A D 2009 final

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  1. I love your blog

    I have read this article and enjoyed it

  2. […] For a discussion of them and their relevance to Waldorf schools, read the review of his article here. […]

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