Guest post by Patti Anklam
Guest blogger, Patti Anklam, author of Net Work: A Practical Guide to Creating and Sustaining Networks at Work and in the World, explores the role of organizational leadership in a network world. This post is part of a series of articles exploring topics related to network leadership hosted by Leadership for a New Era or LNE, a collaborative research initiative launched by the Leadership Learning Community (http://leadershiplearning.org/) in 2009. LNE focuses on promoting leadership approaches that are more inclusive, networked and collective.
The principal task of preparing organizational leaders is to provide them with the language and tools they need to be able to discern and describe network activity, the insights they need to understand network structure, and an appreciation for the vital yet often subtle tasks of managing a network’s context. When leaders can take the network view, or (as we like to say) look through the network lens, they can distinguish the ways in which networks – both formal and informal – are supporting or detracting from the work at hand; they can also identify and leverage the people who are key brokers or connectors in the network or work to stimulate or weave the network to increase connections supporting knowledge flow, innovation, and social capital.
We have always had, and will generally always need, two forms of networks in organizations: the formal and the informal. The formal organization is represented by the (usually) hierarchical organization structure. The links, or ties, in these structures are reporting relationships. They represent commitments and obligations that go in both directions. Formal structures are essential for processes and tasks that require discipline, measurement, and decision-making. This formal organization provides the illusion of control; however it is the informal organization, the organization between the lines and in the white spaces that supports the scaffolding of the hierarchy. Leadership in a networked world implies being able to distinguish the formal and the informal and to understand how to balance the two.
Leaders also need to work at three levels of network: the personal, the organizational, and the ecosystem in which the organization lives.
Without a strong and diverse personal network, a leader will lack the ability to influence decisions, be unable to bring expertise into the organization as needed, and may not have the emotional resources required to thrive in a complex environment. Leaders need to learn how to cultivate their personal networks, and know when and how to manage the time required to maintain these networks.
The organizational network is best served by a leader who can manage the “net work of leadership:” that is, they create the capacity in others to understand and work in networks and they know how to steward the network by creating conditions for networks to emerge and succeed. These include intentional “weaving” of organizations by developing joint project work, initiating linkages between organizations, creating incentives for people to collaborate across boundaries, and so on.
Successful leaders know that the organization does not succeed or fail on its own, that it is part of an ecosystem of groups and organization that extend well past the boundaries of the corporate hierarchy or even its formal partnership agreements. This value network, or web of formal and informal relationships that must be managed, is the third level of network a leader needs to understand and articulate.
At all three levels of network, and across the formal/informal dimension, leaders need to learn to leverage technology. Social media in its many forms – blogs, Twitter, social networking sites, wikis, etc. – can strengthen existing networks as well as stimulate new networks. Collaboration sites and communication services enable networks to circle the globe, enhancing personal and organizational networks with channels for information flow, listening, and feedback that were never before possible.
This is what it means to live in a networked world. There are tools that leaders can learn to use that will help them see the structure of networks as well as models for network stewardship that emerging from practice and evolving through technology. It is among the greatest challenges that leaders face; harnessing this knowledge also provides some of the greatest opportunities for innovation, learning, and sustainability.
What other elements should we consider when preparing organizational leaders to work in a networked world? Please share your ideas!