Generating ideas, connections, and action

LLC Coverage: Leadership in networks: what can we learn?

Note:  This article was originally posted on the Working Wikily site.

Social connection is at the heart of networks, acknowledging that we need each other to make things happen and to amplify the impact of our efforts.  The argument could be made that old school ideas about leadership recognize that an individual leader needs to have a relationship with followers to achieve their goals.  Is there a difference in the quality of connections among leaders and followers, and in how leadership works in networks?  We think there is and that it’s an important one.

The Leadership Learning Community is a national organization committed to supporting social justice by transforming the way leadership is conceived, conducted and evaluated. Three years ago we launched the Leadership for a New Era collaborative research initiative to challenge our most fundamental ideas about leadership. Even if leadership is not your field or focus of work, when it comes right down to it, almost everyone holds some assumptions about leadership, and they matter. If you were asked to tell a leadership story, chances are there would be a hero at the center.  Our culture has glorified the role of individuals and this has permeated our thinking about leadership, often blinding us to all the other leadership roles in the story. If we as a culture believe that leadership is the domain of the exceptional few then we will never mobilize leadership at the scale we need to tackle the enormous disparities in the quality of life. We believe that new levels of social connectedness, supported by new technology and a generation of tech savvy, cause driven social activists, can help push our leadership thinking into the next century.

LNE is exploring the influence of networks on leadership.  This has prompted a number of questions:

  • Do networks call for a different kind of leadership?
  • What does leadership in networks look like?
  • How can we support leadership capacity in networks?
  • Are networks challenging traditional ideas about leadership in other areas?

In networks everyone can be a leader and is authorized to act. Is the point of leadership to concentrate the energy of others around your plan of action or to build connections that unleash many actions, support learning and create energy?  What about the notion of a “network leader”?  Does this terminology imply a centralization of leadership that is antithetical to the very principles of how networks operate?  If so, networks may help to shake up our thinking about how people come together to work on problems and causes we care about….and we may learn a lot more about how to catalyze leadership potential on a massive scale. 

What do you think?