Power, Politics and Network Competencies

Last week I spoke with Ger Berkamp, Director General of the World Water Council (WWC) and later with Peter van Tuijl, Director of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). Each conversation turned to the question “What knowledge, skills and capabilities does your network need to be really successful?”

In both cases, we turned to the competencies framework in Figure 1. And in both cases when the question arose about what may be missing in this framework, Ger and Peter brought up power and politics.

“The political management of the network…it needs taken care of as a political process,” said Ger.

“Capacity to deal with power differences,” said Peter. “It misses the political edge – for the network both internally and externally.”

Daily both Ger and Peter deal with diverse demands and interests to move the network towards its vision. In their positions they have leadership responsibility with their Boards, major stakeholder groups, and particularly influential individuals.

With “politics and power” they are talking about the ability to mobilize support for and/or opposition to policies, values and goals. Internally, they are talking about the ability to work with power differences inherent with the array of constituencies in a global multi-stakeholder network. Externally, they are talking about the ability of the network to influence organizations that are not active participants in the network.

However, in a network like WWC and GPPAC, there is a huge gray area of internal-external. Even if an organization is a participant in the networks, the organization does not automatically agree with the network decisions, move to implement them or even know how to implement them.

Sociologist Amatai Etzioni categorizes power into three types. As voluntary associations the networks have little coercive power generally associated with governments. They have little remunerative power generally associated with business – they simply don’t have the financial or other resources to allocate. They must depend upon normative power: peer pressure, persuasion of logic and moral assertion of what’s right and just.

However, others have coercive and remunerative power that they may apply to influence the direction of the network – either in support of the network’s goals or to undermine them. This is always particularly worrisome vis-à-vis funders. Transparency International is currently facing the coercive power with intimidation by the Government of Sri Lanka against its Chapter there.

Power and politics is a topic of the Leadership competency: how can individuals, groups and the network share leadership to create a leaderful[1] culture and way of working together? And how do we address power-play leadership?

Power and politics is a topic for the Network Development competency where the question becomes how to create strategies, structures and processes to manage power in the interests of the larger network. This involves ensuring and balancing diverse stakeholders’ voice and influence.

Power and politics is also a big topic of the Generative Change competency. Transformational change of the type that Global Action Networks (GANs) like WWC and GPPAC aim for, involves a fundamental change in power and political arrangements. The core work of GANs is to realize a “tipping point” where the values and standards promoted by the GAN become “the norm”.

Of course there is lots of overlap among the competencies. Generative Change, Network Development and Leadership competencies are all needed to clarify, address and create accountability for contributing to two sets of goals: those of individual participants (organizations, Board members) that are conditions for being active in the network, and also for the network’s goals to realize its vision.

One goal of the competencies framework is to suggest how to organize capacity-building programs for GANs. Business schools are organized around core functional divisions like Marketing and Finance; schools of government are organized around divisions reflected in Ministries such as justice (law), health and international relations.

We are still a bit unclear about how to think of core functions of GANs and the key competencies, since they are a relatively young type of organization. The suggestion here is that GANs will often develop a department for Network Development (seen with GPPAC’s Network Building Programme and titles such as Transparency International’s “Governance Manager”). The Generative Change competency is probably the most under-recognized one of all, but one that I feel particularly strongly about. GANs are strategies for global change, and yet in general they make little use of leading change knowledge and have not built capacity for dialogic change skills, for example.

What competencies do you think are particularly important? Join a webinar next Wednesday to further discuss the competencies and key frameworks to support their development. For more information click here.


A New Approach to Network Leadership

Some great new work finally gives a comprehensive framework for network leadership. It takes us from the heroic and hierarchical models of leadership that do not work for networks. But it not only brings out the dispersed, visionary, collaborative, and entrepreneurial qualities and skills critical for network leadership. It also distinguishes the types of network leadership capacities by individuals, teams, organizations, communities and fields of practice. The latter is particularly relevant for large change strategies, since a field of practice refers to a change issue such as corruption, water, finance and fisheries.

Knowledge for Network Leadership

In 2009 a colleague, Grady McGonagill, led an in-depth review of leadership development programs for the Bertelsmann Foundation. “The following perspectives,” he writes in his report, “illustrate the redefinition of leadership to emphasize the importance of shared, collective leadership:

  • Leadership is an activity, not a role. It can be enacted by anyone in a system, independent of their role (Heifetz 1994)
  • ‘Heroic’ leadership leads to ‘over-management,’ defense of turf rather than concern with shared goals, and weak teamwork and coordination; by contrast, shared “post-heroic leadership” releases the potential power of everyone (Bradford and Cohen 1998)
  • Leadership arises within communities of practice whenever people work together and make meaning of their experiences and when people participate in collaborative forms of action across the dividing lines of perspective, values, beliefs, and cultures (Drath and Palus 1994; Drath 2001)” (McGonagill and Reinelt Forthcoming, p.4)

This led Grady and Claire Reinelt of the Leadership Learning Community to develop an insightful way to summarize the knowledge relevant to leadership for Global Action Networks. To give greater definition to “collective leadership,” they created a matrix that emphasizes distinct capacities are needed at different “levels” of the system and different levels of capacity development.

This matrix is reproduced in the Table with two lines shaded to indicate the parts particularly relevant to GANs. (Click on the Table to enlarge it.) Of course GANs have to have capacity in the other boxes as well, but the ones shaded are where GANs should focus on excelling. The bottom row refers to the issue arena that the GAN is working in.

The Table helps GANs ask themselves how they are doing with respect to the shaded leadership development challenges in particular, and then set strategies for addressing them. Currently most GANs are “doing” the shaded activities, but without a capacity development strategy to make sure they excel at them.

Another wonderful thing about the matrix is that it suggests interventions that GANs have been working on, but without being as explicit about how their work is distinctive. It emphasizes that “leadership” is not just a characteristic possessed by individuals, but that the GAN itself has leadership and a role in developing leadership.

Outstanding Network Leadership Challenges

How can these capacities be nurtured and developed with the diverse stakeholders and experts that networks engage? What are cultural challenges of leaders in a global world that values diversity, and how can the challenges be addressed? How can ambiguity, dilemmas, and paradoxes inherent in much of networks work be addressed while maintaining visionary direction?

These sorts of question have been at the heart of an innovative leadership program called Leadership for Change that I had the fortune to initiate. The decade with a wonderful Boston College faculty and my decade of work with GANs have made an enormous contribution to my own appreciation of a new approach to leadership that is particularly relevant to GANs. The network leadership knowledge as well as the capacities are still developing, and Grady’s and Claire’s framework helps us move that agenda forward in a much more disciplined way.


Bradford, D. L. and A. R. Cohen (1998). Power up : transforming organizations through shared leadership. New York, J. Wiley.
Drath, W. H. (2001). The deep blue sea : rethinking the source of leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Drath, W. H. and C. J. Palus (1994). Making common sense : leadership as meaning-making in a community of practice. Greensboro, N.C., Center for Creative Leadership.
Heifetz, R. A. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
McGonagill, G. and P. W. Pruyn (2010). Leadership Development in the U.S.: Principles and Patterns of Best Practice. Bertelsmann Stiftung Leadership Series. S. Vopel. Berlin, Germany, Bertelsmann Stiftung,.
McGonagill, G. and C. Reinelt (Forthcoming). Supporting Leadership Development in the Social Sector: How Foundations Can Make Strategic Investments.

Network Leadership and How to Connect Differences

Probably no skill is as central to multi-stakeholder networks as the ability to connect across differences. For Global Action Networks (GANs), this means connecting between individuals and organizations with diverse cultures and ways of perceiving the world. And it brings up difficult-to-talk-about topics like “love” and “the spiritual”.

Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director for Transparency International, describes this on a very personal level that he experienced when he was in prison in South Africa for his opposition to apartheid. He was 18, and facing the prospect of being raped.

“I don’t think you can engage violence with someone you truly love…and so I ask ‘what does this mean?’ That if there’s a true bond with these people, I won’t get raped…so I’ll have to really work to act on this bond.

You can’t act out that you have a bond with somebody…if you think that they’re a total jerk, racist, then this will fail. I had to overcome something within myself. You have to seek out the common humanity with someone who you dislike, you might disrespect and have very negative feelings towards…you can’t “act out” that you have positive feelings. You need to truly believe it. For me that was my own biggest achievement because I had to overcome all my own prejudices. The process to social justice is in many ways more challenging to overcoming your own prejudices than the big social justice issues you fight on a big stage.”

This might seem very distant from the tension that comes with connecting between organizational sectors (government-business-civil society). However, many of the same leadership challenges arise. There is strong tendency to exaggerate, create stereo-types, and even vilify others in contrast to one’s own position and organization.

A Human Dynamics and Multi-Sector Perspective

One powerful insight that has helped me overcome this tendency arises from my work on identifying distinct attributes of these organizational sectors. When I matched this to the Human Dynamics work of Sandra Seagal and David Horne on individual learning styles, I understood that the sectors tend to be aggregations of different learning styles – physically-centered for business, mentally-centered for government and emotionally-centered for civil society. This insight provides an invaluable way for people to understand their differences so they can meaningfully work together.

This connecting also has a spiritual component that is brought out by another GAN leader and good friend, Sam Daley-Harris. Sam transformed himself from an orchestra musician into an organizer of what is one of the most important global networks addressing poverty: the Microcredit Summit Campaign. He and Muhammad (Grameen Bank) Yunus began working closely together 18 years before Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I commend to you an inspirational 18-minute You-Tube video Poverty, Purpose, Pitfalls, and Redemption. Sam speaks of bringing meaning and purpose to one’s life by connecting with others and “taking action when you see something needs to be done.” He describes original micro-credit motivations involving “redemption”, as defined as “restoring (finding) one’s honor and worth, and setting one free.”

An on-going challenge for GANs is to maintain these love and spiritual components that are necessary for the critical work of GANs to create deep connections across difference. How can they cultivate these qualities and bring together bureaucratic, profit-maximizing and self-righteousness orientations…and realize effectiveness in their global change drives? Some of the answers lie with Human Dynamics and leadership that reflects love and spirit.


Taking sustainable Agricultur and Food to a New Level Of Development

Transforming the agriculture and food system into a sustainable one is something some smart and diverse people have been working on for some time. I’ve been talking with them over the past year, and it seems to me that the system is ready for a new stage of development…but there are several blockages that need addressing.

My thoughts are further spurred by the just-released report by the Asia Society and the International Rice Research Institute, titled Sustaining Food Security in Asia.

Collective challenges to transformation

Transforming the food and agriculture system into a sustainable one was an innovative idea in the 1990s. That idea blossomed into many concrete initiatives over the last decade—most of the examples were founded then. They passed the proof of concept stage and many are experiencing rapid growth. However, they are still miniscule in terms of the overall ag-food system. Getting to scale and transforming that system requires a set of skills and strategies that complement and advance those of these examples.

A number of core challenges include:

The definitional challenge: The array of influences on my thinking make me further wonder about how “the ag-food system” is defined. Some speak of “farm to fork”, others from “farm to feces”. Some have big problems with Genetically Modified Organisms and very large farms; others say they can be accommodated. Some strongly emphasize local, others are part of local-to-global. Who are the stakeholders? This might be so controversial that “the system” can’t be big enough to advance.

The financing challenge: the need for mainstream investors to recognize the emerging sustainable ag-food system as an interesting investment, and the ability of those in the system to present it as such.

The scaling systems challenge: the organizing infrastructure that has got the initiatives to their current stage of development is simply inadequate to take them to system transformation.

The public policy challenge: the need to have governments and inter-governmental organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization, develop policy that favors a sustainable ag-food system.

The markets challenge: creating mass markets for sustainable ag-food products.

These challenges will require a much more significant collective effort – the initiatives individually can certainly not do it. And their very low level of interaction today will not generate what is needed.

A modest proposal

To advance development of the system, I’ve suggested in a concept note an action research investigations to produce:

  • a “complex whole system” perspective, believing that participants all have only a partial view of who is doing what;
  • an assessment by people in the system about their collective level of development and opportunities and challenges;
  • a draft strategy for addressing the key opportunities and challenges, and
  • a Stewardship Team of stakeholders to advance the strategy’s development.

The proposition that I developed resonated with Krijn Poppe who is Chief Science Officer at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Secretary General at the European Association of Agricultural Economists, and Research Manager at LEI, part of Wageningen UR.  He is also co-editor of a very worthwhile read Transitions towards sustainable agriculture and food chains in peri-urban areas.

But so far, I’ve got no firm takers for the proposal. What are some of the possible reasons? Some mixture of the following, I suppose:

  • I’ve misjudged the development stage and opportunity…either it isn’t there yet, or I’ve not noticed that it’s already addressing these challenges in a reasonable way;
  • I’ve badly communicated it, or communicated it to the wrong people to advance it;
  • The proposed activities aren’t seen as a useful step towards the desired outcomes;
  • People are overwhelmed with their own individual initiatives, and cannot take time to think about the system;
  • People have become attached to their individual initiatives in a competitive or proprietary way and are not interested in the system goals;
  • Taking the system to a new stage of development requires new leadership – people who have successfully initiated are not the ones who can respond to the new challenges;
  • People fear that the proposal is designed to produce some sort of “grand plan” that will produce an inappropriate drive for coordination and bureaucracy, as opposed to what I would call significantly enhanced “system coherence”.

The new AS/IRRI report estimates $409 billion/year is needed for investment in agriculture in developing countries’ agriculture. How much of that will be for the sustainable ag-food system? What are your thoughts about current opportunities?


Empower Your Leaderful Network with the Four C’s

Joe is a leading thinker, author, educator and consultant in the leadership field. About 18 years ago I met him when he was on the business faculty at Boston College; he’s now at Northeastern University. We worked closely together with the executive management program, Leadership for Change. I continually have been impressed by his thoughtful and principled approach to leadership, and his formulation of the concept of “leaderful practice” as an approach perfect for networks. – Steve

Consider the following proposition: When people who have a stake in a venture are given every chance to participate in and affect the venture, including its implementation, their commitment to the venture will be heightened. How might a network be shaped using this approach?

Traditionally, leadership has been the prerogative of an individual. Leaders controlled their teams, were sole authorities, and made all the key decision dispassionately. The leaderful practice model offers an alternative approach. It is characterized by four operating tenets known as the four Cs.

The first tenet, that leaders be concurrent, stipulates that there can be more than one leader operating at the same time in a community, so leaders willingly and naturally share power with others. Indeed, power can be increased by everyone working together.

Leaderful practice is not only concurrent, but is also collective. Since a group can have more than one leader operating at a time, we can conclude that people might be functioning as leaders all together; the entity is not solely dependent on one individual to mobilize action or make decisions on behalf of others.

Leaderful practice is also collaborative. All members in the community, not just the position leader, may speak for the entire community. They may advocate a point of view that they believe can contribute to the common good of the community, but they are equally sensitive to the views and feelings of others. They thus seek to engage in a public dialogue in which they willingly open their beliefs and values to scrutiny. It is through dialogue that collaborative leaders co-create the enterprise.

Finally, leaderful managers are compassionate. By demonstrating compassion, one extends unadulterated commitment to preserving the dignity of others. Each member of the network is valued, regardless of his or her background or social standing, and all viewpoints are solicited regardless whether they conform to current thought processes. In practicing compassion, leaders take the stance of a learner who sees the adaptability of the community as dependent upon the contribution of others.

Change within a Leaderful Network

So, we have the ingredients for establishing a leaderful culture within a community. Unfortunately, leaderful practice is not typically the default option when it comes to exhibiting leadership. The individual heroic model still persists. So, it is a challenge to introduce leaderful practice when people and institutions aren’t ready for it.

Consequently, institutional change needs to be mobilized by internal or external change agents who can encourage the endorsement of a culture of learning and participation within the system in question. Change agency, in turn, needs to occur at multiple levels of experience: individual, interpersonal, team, organization, and network. When people learn to lead together in the world, they can shape their local communities for the better, that is, in ways that are more responsive to their mutual needs.

For the readers following Steve Waddell’s Networking Action blog, you know that life in the 21st Century is becoming increasingly networked whereby we may begin to think of ourselves as parties to webs of partnerships. Social networks, in turn, are typically characterized by collaborative practices in which the parties learn to share resources in ways that are mutual to the participating entities.

There are always cases in which one of the institutional members of the network mobilizes the participation of others, but most social networks are self-organizing resulting in members participating to further their self and collective interests. I have applied the name “weavers” (adapted from Cheryl Honey’s community weaving practice) to designate those individuals who play a critical role not only to organize networks, but to sustain them once formed. Network weavers work with others to mobilize and to document exchanges within the network. Using tools such as social network analysis (SNA), weavers can point out where there are gaps in knowledge resources, where bottlenecks may be occurring within communication patterns, where access to new resources may be necessary, where special expertise may be required, or where clusters of connections may be formed from which the network can learn.

The process of change at the network level is dynamic and not as controllable as was the conventional bureaucracy. Sharing among network members is often emergent rather than planned. Variety and adaptability take the place of efficiency to allow for continuous change. As Steve persistently reminds us, what holds the network together is social capital based as much on trust as on rules and regulations. From trust evolves a sense of shared meaning making, which is what tends to mobilize the creation of new knowledge.

All the levels of change discussed in my own The Leaderful Fieldbook instigate the necessary competencies for networks to flourish. At the individual level, learners become more reflective and more aware of their cultural assumptions; at the interpersonal level, they dedicate themselves to inquire more with others; at the team level, they become more committed to supporting teammates while performing the work of the team; and at the organizational level, they begin to identify systemic patterns and advocate for change. When successful, members of the network exhibit what we might call “network citizenship behavior,” or special efforts made on behalf of their network over and above routine network services. Network citizenship behavior is thus a likely consequence of leaderful practices applied by weavers and members to sustain and strengthen ties in multi-stakeholder networks.


Leadership, Innovation and Complexity Science

Leadership in multi-stakeholder networks must deal with complexity.  This contrasts with complicated where there are many moving parts such as with getting a person on the moon, but the moving parts are for the most part controllable and predictable.  With complexity, prediction is very difficult.  Typically it is associated with social systems like networks.  Complexity well handled, however, can produce unique innovation that is critical to getting many issues “unstuck”.  This is the topic of a recent book Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership by Benyamin Lichtenstein, Jeffrey Goldstein and James Hazy.  Benyamin gives an introduction to his thinking in this excerpt from Mass High Tech journal.

Complexity science sees leadership as an influence process that arises through every interaction across the organization: When any two people interact, they influence each other in unique ways, and thus they each generate leadership for the other. In this sense, leadership emerges in the space between people as they interact. In many such interactions, which are happening all the time in every corner of the organization, novelty emerges and is enacted in unique and surprising ways. This means that the true catalysts of innovation are the web of relationships — in the nexus of interactions — thatconnect members to each other and to others in the environment.

This view is very different from traditional views of leadership, which see innovation and change as emanating from an executive or manager. In contrast, complexity science shows how this focus on “heroic” and charismatic leaders can result in a lack of innovation in modern organizations. Instead, the new strategy reframes leader and leadership as referring primarily to events rather than to people.
Through a series of interactions over time, leadership events alter the underlying framework of engagement. They change the rules by which individuals interact, influencing the ends to be achieved, such as where a work group is headed, as well as the means by which it gets there. These changes generate a more engaged ecology, which leads to higher levels of innovation.

The term generative leadership highlights how the process of innovation is not led by any one individual but emerges through an unfolding series of events at every level of the organization. Generative leadership focuses on the mutual influence that occurs within every exchange. Accordingly, rather than concentrating on how a supervisor expresses influence over an employee, generative leadership sees them both as expressing leadership. Moreover, generative leadership refers to capturing the benefits of this mutual interplay as a generative process — it spawns new opportunities that increase the organization’s potential for novelty, flexibility and growth.

Complexity science research has explained how these mutual interactions between agents (i.e., individual actors in the ecology) give rise to innovation. Specifically, it is the differences between agents — their diversity of expertise, perspectives, organizational experience, social background, heritage and so on — which generates innovation within their interaction, for difference leads to unanticipated and novel outcomes. By implementing the tools of generative leadership, high-tech companies can increase innovation without increasing budgets — a powerful strategy during these challenging times.


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.


WINGSForum: On networks and cultivating “more leaderful change agents”

WINGSForum 2014 will be the premier event for connecting with a global network of grantmakers, community foundation support organizations, and leaders in the sphere of philanthropy from across the globe.  I am honored to be keynote speaker and leading a workshop (March 26) on networks for the Forum, in Istanbul March 27-29.  In preparation for this, WingsForum published a interview with me on its Philanthropy in Focus blog.  Read more…