Generating ideas, connections, and action

Leadership Development and then what? New possibilities and tools for catalyzing leadership program graduates!

Network Map

If you don’t know the story, the Leadership Learning Community, grew out of efforts to convene graduates of multiple leadership programs in target regions across the United States in an effort to build a diverse leadership force for local community change.  I thought it was a great idea but this early effort fell flat.  When I invited leadership programs to share contact information or forward invitations so that their graduates could meet up with other leadership program graduates in their region, one program after another offered variations of ‘no’ that went something like, “We have to get our own fellows together first”, or “our fellows are too busy”.   Of course the good news was that through these conversations with people running leadership programs it became clear that the ground was ripe for some rich cross program learning and people took quickly to this idea and here we are 10 years later.  And maybe the idea of connecting leadership program graduates on a new scale was just a little before its time, but that was then and times have changed!  We can do more to connect the busy graduates of our leadership programs to increase the impact of their efforts, not by working more but by working smarter through networks.


We will likely see a shift in the vibrancy and action being produced by networks of leadership program graduates, when leadership programs incorporate curriculum and tools that do more to: 1) help their participants understand what a network is and why network strategies can help to amplify their impact; and 2) how to effectively utilize and strengthen networks with weaving and bridging skills.  In the meantime, a number of leadership programs that are picking up on the power of network strategies are bringing this thinking to their work with former graduates.  Over the past year, through LLC’s Applied Research Consulting Services, we have worked with the Synergos Instituted and the Switzer fellows to bring a network lens to help them identify and build on strong relationship that already exist while cultivating (also called ‘weaving’) relationships that draw in less connected graduates who will bring new ideas, resources and energy to increase the potential impact program graduates are having, for example in the case of the Switzer fellows, on environmental issues in policy.


Over the past couple of months LLC has entered into a partnership with the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance led by Martha Lee on an exciting project to use a social network analysis (SNA) to help catalyze their network of 1000 leadership graduates from 10 different leadership programs funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of the past 30 years. LLC and KFLA will use social network analysis to grow the KFLA network’s ability to share information, coordinate activities, accelerate learning and take action.   Kellogg fellows will benefit from knowing more about other fellows who work in their field, share their interest in an issue like immigration, could be the perfect consultant for a project, or live 5 miles from them.  KFLA is one of the better staffed alumni programs and has been able to transmit some of this information but there is a limit to how much they can monitor and communicate information about 1000 people.  In short, we want to help the KFLA network participants communicate more amongst themselves, self organize and coordinate joint work with a lighter touch from the KFLA team to exponentially expand the scope of what they can accomplish together.


To do this we plan to survey KFLA alumni and map their connections by asking them questions about who they communicate with, who they seek advice from, who they have worked with, or what issues they are interested in working on. The maps we produce will make the network and the way it works more visible to staff and fellows who want to take an active role in strengthening the network.  Maps reveal connections across cohort groups, regions, issues and shared interest, information that can be used to identify and facilitate collaborative opportunities across silos. Staff and fellows will be involved in making meaning of the maps as part of the analysis.  LLC is partnering also with well-recognized leaders in social network mapping, Valdis Krebs and the author of the soon to be released Network Weavers Handbook, June Holley.  Through this project we want to do more than bring a social network analysis to KFLA, we want to build this capacity within the KFLA staff and participants.  A good part of this joint venture will involve training KFLA staff in how to use SNA tools and coaching KFLA staff and interested participants in network weaving so that this perspectives, tools and skills will be incorporated into the fabric of KFLA’s approach to building and activating its network.


After a year of working with KFLA we will do a second network map to track changes that have occurred within the network as a result of this support.  We will do a case study to tell this story in the hopes that there will be many lessons and possible applications for leadership programs experimenting with how to connect and leverage the impact of the good work of their graduates.  After all, hundreds of thousands of individuals, teams and communities have participated in leadership development activities over the past 20 years.  Imagine the collective impact if we could connect these efforts!


Would you like to join a learning circle on building sustainable networks of leadership program graduates?


Last week we got a call from Julia McBride who is helping to develop the network for graduates of the Kansas Leadership Health Institute.  We had a long, probably the first of many, conversation about how to build the connection of program graduates.  As we were ending the call it occurred to us that others would probably like to join in as we share what we are learning and things are changing quickly as new tools create new possibilities.  Please let us know if you would be interested in joining this circle.  We will figure out together how to support our collective learning, maybe webinars or possibly a face to face meeting.  It will be up to you.