Leadership and Networks: A new resource

Traditional organization approaches to leadership can lead to disaster with networks – I’ve seen wrong headedness turn networks into hierarchical organizations that unwittingly eviscerate the benefits for choosing a network in the first place.  What are the core principles of leading with a network mindset, and what strategies support their development?  These are two key questions addressed in a new report:  Leadership & Networks:  New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World.

Produced by the Leadership Learning Community with modest contributions by me, the report is a good guide for those using network strategies to realize social change. It contrasts “collective” leadership with “heroic”, observing that

“Our fondness for heroes often prevents us from seeing and understanding collective leadership…  Although traditional organizational leadership models may be effective in solving and managing technical problems, they are a liability when it comes to tackling complex, systemic, and adaptive problems.”

Barriers to adopting a network leadership mindset listed are:

  • Fear of competition and too great of focus on “brand”;
  • Competitive funding structures;
  • Hierarchical planning;
  • A focus on top-down management processes;
  • Lack of openness to serendipity and learning from others;
  • Short-term focus; and
  • Lack of a systems approach to problem-solving.

In response, the report emphasizes the importance of a mindset that emphasizes

  • Connecting and weaving;
  • Enabling self-organizing; and
  • Learning and risk-taking;

One of the principle authors, Claire Reinelt, is also co-developer of a very useful table on leadership development strategies for individuals, teams, organizations, networks, and systems.  The new report focuses on network leadership capacity development strategies, which include:

  • Processes building relationships across boundaries;
  • Using network development tools to cultivate the mindset;
  • Action learning;
  • Communities of learning/practice investments; and
  • Building capacity to work in complex systems.

As the report appropriately emphasizes, walking the talk is key.

The report is highly American-centric, reflecting its primary audience and authorship.  This is seen in its examples and language (eg: “nonprofit”).  However, I believe that the guidance is valuable in a broad range of contexts.

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