**Warning. This blog contains spoilers. Read on if you’re okay with that. **
Artwork by Jin Kim
There’s no shortage of stuff to remind us that collaboration matters. Being a good ‘team player’ is shorthand for the qualities needed to work with other human beings and get things done. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Mix up a bunch of people with different skills, experiences, and objectives; chuck in conflicting priorities and time pressures, and what do you get? It’s the reason shows like The Apprentice are so compelling. Collaboration is rarely about caring and sharing. The fact is, proper collaboration – and leadership – is tough.
Politics is a brilliant case in point. But let’s spare ourselves from partisan ranting and instead, focus on a perfect example of collaborative leadership gone wrong: the finale of Veep. After seven seasons, former president Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has a shot at a second term in the Oval Office. What stands between her and returning to the White House? Her fellow party nominees. The 2020 national convention is at a deadlock. None of four candidates have the 2368 majority needed to get the party’s nomination. The only way to get on the ticket is to cut a deal with another candidate. They need to sort it out swiftly, or face another four years with President Montez at the helm, and their party pushed to the margins. It’s a classic opportunity for collaborative leadership. By working with the other three, Selina can minimise power struggles and increase the odds of a successful outcome for her party.
Obviously, that’s not what happens. Selina rejects the ‘simple solution’ of asking her opponent – and personal nemesis – Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye), to be her running mate. Instead, she makes a bunch of explosive choices which get progressively more divisive and dubious. Tom James (Hugh Laurie) enters the race as a fifth candidate at the last minute, and Selina quickly rips him from the running by persuading his chief of staff to accuse him of sexual harassment in return for a top job in her White House administration. She promises to ease fracking legislation in New York state to get the governor onside, and outlaw gay marriage to get Buddy Calhoun (one of the three remaining threats played by Matt Oberg) to back her and step aside. She makes Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) – described as ‘an unstable piece of human scaffolding’ and a ‘sentient enema’ – her running-mate, to the complete disgust of her campaign strategist and Jonah’s own campaign manager Amy (Anna Chlumsky), who basically begs her not to put such a vindictive narcissist anywhere near power. And to put some awful icing on this dicey political cake, Selina shops her personal aide Gary (Tony Hale) to the FBI, has him jailed for the misdeeds of her dodgy ex-husband to make allegations of financial impropriety go away, and has it happen WHILE SHE’S ONSTAGE ACCEPTING THE PARTY NOMINATION.
Collaboration in action: consultancy week in Vietnam
I’m not even going to try and pitch this as a morality tale where good triumphs over the most Machiavellian political operators, and bad behaviour gets punished in the end. The fact is, Selina wins – though the top spot is pretty lonely as she’s kicked all the support from under her on the way up. No, the point is there’s never been more of case for collaborative leadership in 2019. Partnerships and collaborations – especially between sectors – are vital for creating change, and creating social and economic value. However, collaboration is HARD. There’s no guarantee it’ll succeed, and no formula for doing it well.
Jennie Albone (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)
Over the last two years, my Cass MBA colleagues and I have combined full-time work with intensive study. Our achievements are a combo of results from individual assignments and group tasks. When we graduate in July, we aren’t just celebrating our own successes; we’re recognising that we worked together to make this outcome possible. From co-writing essays, to working with Vietnam’s first unicorn tech company on a consultancy project, group work and collaboration was a staple of the course. You’ll be pleased to hear my experience in no way resembles the brutal hard knocks doled out by President Meyer. Instead, I had the chance to work with a cohort who bought diverse talent, experience and views to everything we did. Sure, there were times when it would’ve felt easier if we’d thought a bit less divergently and just got on with it. But diversity is massively important. Working with people who approach problems from a completely different place helps you to check your assumptions, reveal your blind spots, and reach a better result. It’s taught me how to recognise and value the skills others bring even more, which is something I’ll take with me to the next stage of my career. So, does that mean a Cass MBA the answer to all of our leadership challenges? Well, no – nothing is that simple. But opportunities to hone our personal collaboration skills matter. And for many of us, the MBA’s been an intensive chance to reflect on our approach.
For an interesting primer on the four areas that make for an effective collaborative leader, try this.
Find out more about opportunities to study an MBA in London or Dubai and continue your leadership journey here.
Modular Executive MBA (2019)