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From Leadership Develop Programs to Vibrant Networks: Five Things to Consider

The Arab Spring and the massive mobilization of people and resources in the 2008 elections have captured the imagination of leadership development programs impressed by network strategies with the potential to magnify the social impact of individuals and groups.   Many leadership programs are interested in how they might incorporate a network approach to catalyze action among their graduates.  LLC would like to share five lessons from conversations about program design approaches could be at odds with nurturing emergent networks:

  • Leadership models introduced in many leadership programs are in conflict with the leadership behaviors that are needed for network leadership.
  • Few existing leadership programs are helping participants learn to use social technologies or to gain skills with network strategies that would help to ensure the success of the network.
  • The top down, expert driven design of many leadership programs undermines self-organizing and peer learning opportunities that would help nurture an emergent network.
  • Leadership program graduates will not automatically connect as a network simply because they have graduated from the same leadership program: there has to be a compelling purpose and the impact of the network could be amplified by being open.
  • Supporting a network requires an investment in platforms and network coordination.


Leadership Models and Cultivating Network Leaders

Leadership programs often have explicit or implicit assumptions about what constitutes effective leadership and many programs incorporate curriculum to strengthen skills needed for this type of organizational or managerial leadership.  However, as we learn more about the development of effective networks, we noticed that network leadership requires very different skill sets that are sometimes at odds with the management skills that are important in organizational contexts.   In today’s increasingly connected world, leaders will need to be adept at both organizational and network leadership and adapt their skills to the environment in which they are working.  The chart below (from June Holley’s Network Weaver Handbook) illustrates new skills and leadership behaviors that participants in leadership program could be encouraged to cultivate and practice in their leadership within a cohort that connects the work of individuals across different anti-poverty organizations. For example, leaders will need to know when to be directive and when to facilitate others, when to set a central direction and when to encourage others to take small actions and experiment. 







Position, authority


Role, behavior

Few leaders


Everyone a leader




Tell what to do


Many people initiate



Facilitation and Support

Small group in the know


Openness & Transparency




Top down


Bottom up

Make sure tasks completed


Help identify breakthroughs



Small group






Innovation and Experimentation

Provide service


Support Self-organization


Program Design

Many leadership programs utilize experts and training programs.  This is helpful and can provide exposu