“It is lonely at the top” is commonly used to express the status among managers and senior executives. According to our observations within medical and dental organizations, this axiom is not only true, but may have more consequences than you might think.

Staying ahead of daily demands and meeting company expectations can force anyone to keep their head down and grinding forward. Despite company efforts to foster teamwork or promote collaboration, when under the gun, managers typically try to do things themselves. Yet, this attitude or habit may be exactly what is holding executives back from reaching the very goals and results they desire.

We have uncovered some new information that suggests that collaboration and seeking the support and assistance of others promotes greater productivity in the workplace. Those who operate independently may be missing an important edge in getting more done in less time.


Subhead: Your work habits

Ask yourself the following questions to assess your own work habits and tendency to seek the assistance and support of others:

When was the last time I worked on a project with a colleague?

Do I typically collaborate or solicit the help of others in completing a project?

Can I describe a strength or skill for each of the colleagues I work with?

Do I consider the other resources available to me before beginning a project?

Managers who depend solely on their own ideas, power and grit are forced to ‘reinvent the wheel’ every time a problem needs solving, system needs developing or idea needs creating. Obviously, this is working way harder than is really necessary.

Operating alone is inefficient and fails to leverage the value of the collective talent in a diverse management team. There is synergy in collaboration. If synergy occurs where their combined effect of two or more forces is greater than the sum of their individual effects; then managers who cooperate with others create a greater outcome resulting in increased productivity. 

It is easy for senior leaders and middle managers to become quite isolated by routinely interacting with mostly subordinates. Subordinates are not highly motivated to challenge, criticize or give advice to their managers. They are more focused on making a good impression (which may involve telling the executive what the subordinate believes he or she wants to hear). As a result, managers must fight this kind of separation.

In addition, isolation can lead to feelings of disconnectedness and loneliness causing dissatisfaction at work. According to Gallup research, 57 percent of managers and 51 percent of executives are at various levels of disengagement at work. Wow!  Imagine how productivity is impacted where more than half of a management team is not engaged. Managers who feel disconnected will, no doubt, struggle to lead or create an environment of success for his/her team.  The implications can be enormous — and very expensive.

How Engaged are Corporate Managers?

Top executives say YES more often than other employees to every question Gallup’s surveys that measures employee engagement.

Three questions where executives score much higher than employees:
The mission/purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
At work, my opinions seem to count.
This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Four questions where executives score higher, but by a much smaller margin:
I have a best friend at work.
In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
There is someone at work who encourages my development.
In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

Source: Gallup Organization Q12 2005 Survey included 332 companies administered to 4.5 million workers.


On the cheery side of change, collaboration is a mind-set and a skill-set — both of which can be learned — that can make a big difference to a company’s bottom line.

Consider these five essential skills for building successful collaborative environments:

1. Foster a culture of collaboration: If you want to make collaborating a reflex rather than a reaction, place high value on encouraging all employees to share and get involved. Keep in mind, collaborative cultures are learning cultures and knowledge sharing is an ongoing process, not an end point.

2. Know thy resources: Maximizing company resources requires more than knowing about its products or values. Inquire and research the technologies available to you, your team or those deployed throughout the company.

3. Acknowledge contributors: Recognize and promote people who learn, teach and share. And penalize those who do not. In all best-practices companies, those hoarding knowledge and failing to build on ideas of others face visible and serious career consequences.

4. Celebrate diversity: It’s crucial to harnessing the full power of collaboration. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored — limiting options and outcomes.

5. Follow through: Many teams will adopt and drop collaboration tools, leaving information fragmented. Create a collaboration task force that helps teams learn how to use tools and resources, evangelize their adoption, and evaluate new options.

— By Anita Sirianni

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