!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Leaders' Networks

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Leaders' Networks

In a special issue on leadership that the Harvard Business Review published in January 2007, an article I found helpful analyzes the types of networks a leader needs to cultivate.

Herminia Ibarra (professor of organizational behavior at Insead) and Mark Hunter (adjunct professor of communications at Insead) used observation of thirty people transitioning from functional manager to business leader to gain an understanding of what approach to networking is most effective for people moving into leadership roles, roles which require the individuals in question to adopt a new view of how they can best add value.

Ibarra and Hunter define a network as "a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information." Their fundamental finding is that good leaders devote considerable time and effort to building and maintaining three interdependent types of networks:
  • Operational network — largely composed of internal contacts — people who can help the leader successfully carry out his/her internal responsibilities. "The purpose of this type of networking is to ensure coordination and cooperation among people who have to know and trust one another in order to accomplish their immediate tasks."

  • Personal network — largely composed of external contacts — people in professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, etc., with whom the leader has something in common. "[M]anagers gain new perspectives that allow them to advance in their careers. ... These contacts provide important referrals, information, and, often, developmental support such as coaching and mentoring."

  • Strategic network — internal and external contacts — people who can help the leader tune in to strategic opportunities and stakeholders whose support is needed in selling ideas and competing for resources. "The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another."
Ibarra and Hunter found that the last of these three — strategic networking — is an area where leadership development training can have an especially productive impact because, left to their own devices, new leaders will tend to seriously underutilize this type of networking.

But note also that Ibarra and Hunter argue, "Building a leadership network is less a matter of skill than of will." I.e., instead of letting other, supposedly more pressing activities crowd out networking activities, the aspiring leader has to consciously decide to make time for network building and involvement. As Ibarra and Hunter put it,
... networking is not a talent; nor does it require a gregarious, extroverted personality. It is a skill, one that takes practice. We have seen over and over again that people who work at networking can learn not only how to do it well but also how to enjoy it. And they tend to be more successful in their careers than those who fail to leverage external ties or insist on defining their jobs narrowly.
The whole Ibarra/Hunter article is worth reading because of its practical analysis of the dynamics of networking and intelligent politicking, and because of the wealth of well-chosen examples the authors describe.


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