9 Things I Learned About Moving from Lone Wolf to Collaborator


I’m not a natural collaborator.  When I develop something new, my default is to go it alone. I don’t like to impose on others for help. It seems like a lot of work to ask for input, arrange discussions, and synthesize all the feedback. And, if I’m honest, I’ve had a long-held belief that it’s weak to ask for assistance; I’m competent and capable and can do it on my own.

It was with this attitude that I began a research project a few years ago. I was curious to learn more about people who are successfully changing the world–or their piece of the world. I refer to them as change-makers, and I wanted to know what they have in common. To date, I have interviewed nearly 50 successful change-makers, and each interview was like attending a master class on how to be a better human.

Over a dozen themes emerged from that research; it was actually startling how similar the mindsets were of this diverse group of interviewees. One clear similarity is that successful change-makers actively seek to collaborate. For some, it means partnering with other people in an official capacity, and for other change-makers, it means asking for help from trusted colleagues.

So, when it came time for me to start making sense of my research data, I fought the impulse to do it myself and followed the changemakers’ advice: I engaged a small team of trusted allies to help me. I hired a new coach who specializes in being a thought partner, I spoke with friends, and I asked specific questions of colleagues to elicit their input.

Here’s what I learned from collaborating (and these are all the reasons why I’d do it again):

  1. People are incredibly willing to help. Whether I raised the topic informally over dinner or set up specific meetings and provided advance questions, my trusted allies were all willing to thoughtfully engage in conversation (even coming prepared with written notes).
  2. People enjoy helping. My trusted allies told me that they really enjoyed the conversations and that they’d be eager to engage in further discussions. Now I don’t intend to abuse their goodwill, but I was recently reminded that “by receiving we reveal to the givers that they have gifts to offer” (from “The Importance of Receiving” by Henri J.M. Nouwen).
  3. It’s more fun. Collaborating with others included brainy discussions, healthy debates, and lots of laughter. I don’t get those when I work alone.
  4. The end result is better. When more brain power is devoted to developing a topic, the topic becomes more refined, as it is subjected to increased rigour and filtered through multiple perspectives.
  5. It’s surprisingly affirming. I didn’t expect to feel validated through this process of inviting input and feedback, but I do. To listen as my ideas were given serious consideration and were built upon made me feel as though my thinking is worth something.
  6. I got clearer, earlier. In order to ask for help, I had to do advance thinking—about my thinking. What ARE my top three ideas? What do I specifically want help with? What am I looking for as outcomes from our discussions? My own creative process became more efficient.
  7. It’s good for my brain. My trusted allies are brilliant people. I found myself being challenged to keep up with their thinking, the connections they were making, and how they kept building upon the existing conversation. It was like another master class, and I loved it.
  8. I have more confidence and less doubt. Instead of feeling weak and ashamed for asking for help, I feel much more confident in my next steps. I remember some of the earlier programs I developed in isolation and how unsure I was whether I had something good on my hands. Of course I don’t know if this next work will be a success, but I am a lot more optimistic about its chances, thanks to the vetting of my trusted allies.
  9. The possibilities are endless. When I work alone, I have one way of thinking, and it can get pretty narrow. When I involve others, the conversations are generative, and the only limitation seems to be how much time we have for the discussion. I have so many more ideas to build on now, and I’m excited by how expansive that feels.

So what about you?

  • Where would you place yourself on a continuum from lone wolf to collaborator?
  • What have you learned about this current position? How is it serving you?  How is it holding you back?
  • Where are you curious to explore on the continuum?
  • What is one thing you can do this week to make even a slight shift?

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Join Kara at ICF Converge 2017, where she will be presenting the session “Lessons Learned from Those Who are Changing the World” on Friday, August 25.

ICF Converge 2017: The Intersection of Coaching & Potential is ICF’s first global event since 2012. It is taking place August 24-26, 2017 in Washington, D.C., USA at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park.

Connect with the conversation on Facebook and with the event hashtag #ICFConverge.

Kara Exner has a passion for developing potential in others. She has over 20 years of management and training experience, and has been working as a professional coach since 2005. Kara coaches leaders on both personal and professional goals, works with teams to help them operate more effectively together, and facilitates training that teaches leaders to be more coach-like in their approach. Kara is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute and she has earned the credential of Professional Certified Coach from the International Coach Federation. She has a master’s degree in adult and continuing education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Saskatchewan. Serving in volunteer roles is important to Kara: She served a three-year term (2012-2014) on the ICF Global Board of Directors, and she currently serves on the board of directors for the Alumni Association of the University of Saskatchewan. 

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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