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Context: Leadership for a New Era (LNE) is a collaborative research initiative launched in 2009 by the Leadership Learning Community - a nonprofit organization transforming the way leadership is conceived, conducted and evaluated in the nonprofit sector. LNE focuses on promoting leadership approaches that are more inclusive, networked and collective. As part of this initiative we are working with several partners to produce a publication on Leadership and Networks that seeks to influence how leadership is cultivated and supported in the social sector; and to more effectively support efforts to mobilize collective action across sectors to address more systemically complex social and environmental issues. More info!

Contributions: The following content has been generated by partners and contributors to Leadership for a New Era. We are experimenting with how to connect our ideas to produce greater wisdom about the practice of network leadership and how it is developed and supported within organizations and across communities. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Please credit the author(s) and link back to this website.

  • How Can We Understand Network Leadership in the Context of Current Leadership Thinking and Practice? (Deborah Meehan with Claire Reinelt, Natalia Castaneda and Bella Celnik)

We often think of leadership as the skills, qualities and behavior of an individual who exerts influence over others to take action or achieves a goal using their position and authority. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is only one part of the leadership story – and one that does not fully recognize leadership as a relational process that is fluid, dynamic, non-directive and non-unilateral. Understanding leadership as a collective process requires us to think differently about how change occurs and what leadership is, how it works and how we can support it.

Traditional approaches to leadership and leadership development assume that training an individual leader with appropriate knowledge and skills will result in an increase of organizational capacity which in turn will lead to better community results.

Leader Development Model for Stronger Organizations & Community Results

Individual Skills => => => Strong organization => => => Better Community Results

We cannot achieve larger scale change by investing in one leader at a time. We can reach more people and tackle bigger problems by investing our time and resources in strengthening leadership processes within organizations, communities and networks. Whenever people work better together in groups, align their efforts across organizations, and find common purpose they have greater power to influence the norms, cultures, and policies that affect their well-being and livelihood.

The potential for people to self-organize and exercise collective leadership has expanded tremendously in recent years because of new technologies and new ways of behaving. Web-based social media and collaboration platforms enable us to quickly find and connect with people anywhere that share our interests and concerns. Conversational processes like World Café, Open Space Technology, Visual Explorer and other processes enable us to listen, connect, build stronger relationships that provide a stronger foundation for coordinating our actions and collaborating.

We are learning a lot about collective forms of leadership through the study and practice of leadership in networks. The network development field draws on and contributes to our understanding of collective leadership by helping to illuminate the beliefs, principles and behaviors of leadership deeply rooted in relationships and connectivity. To support leadership that results in transformational changes, we need to build our understanding of leadership as a collective and relational process that supports organizations, networks and communities to take action on the issues we care deeply about.


  • How is network leadership different from organizational leadership and why is understanding this difference important? (Claire Reinelt)
Network leadership, unlike conventional leadership approaches, is collective, distributed, bottom-up, facilitative and emergent. The individual model of leadership historically associated with strong organizations is more, directive, top-down, and transactional. As we expand our leadership mindset to understand leadership as a collective process, more people are questioning the leadership assumptions that are embedded in traditional organizational structures and processes. While this publication will contrast network and organizational leadership as a useful way of highlighting new models of leadership emerging in a connected environment, we believe that these distinctions will become less significant as organizations and communities adopt leadership approaches that are more relational and collective.

The Monitor Institute provides a chart that characterizes the differences between organizational leadership and network leadership.

Organizational Leadership
Network Leadership
Position, authority Role, behavior
Individual Collective
Control Facilitative
Directive Emergent
Transactional Relational, connected
Top-down Bottom-up
Action-oriented Process-oriented
Monitor Institute Slideshare, Social Networks for Social Change (p.72)

Network leadership and organizational leadership have always co-existed, although during much of the 20th century organizational leadership was the privileged form for organizing resources and managing the delivery of goods and services. Even in the social sector, organizational forms prevailed. Hierarchical leadership structures created a form of accountability that made donors feel safer with their investments. Money was invested in developing nonprofit leaders who would have greater capacity to manage and lead effective organizations. This led to some remarkable leadership achievements, but at the same there were unintended consequences.

Many people and communities did not benefit from the ways that resources were organized and distributed; and in some cases, great harm was done (especially in communities of color and low-income communities). These communities used their own assets to meet their needs as best they could with little public or philanthropic support, and in fact, when that support was provided it often failed to address the structural inequities that existed in the community and often exacerbated disparities. Leadership programs were not, for the most part, designed to bridge differences, build social capital, or address structural inequities.

At the start of the 21st century we are increasingly recognizing and seeing the power of network approaches. With the rise of the Web and the greater capacity for people, resources, and ideas to self-organize, new forms of organizing are becoming possible. The Obama campaign is an excellent example. Using web-based tools and community organizing, supporters were able to connect, contribute, and collaborate much more easily, efficiently, and faster than ever before. The campaign invested in creating the collaborative platform (mybarackobama.com) but its use was driven by his supporters.

Many organizations are learning to “work wikily” with greater openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making and distributed action (Monitor Institute) and are therefore better positioned to adapt to dynamic and changing environments and respond to crises (Heifetz et. Al). This being said, however, many organizations are finding it challenging to adopt a network approach to leadership, and leadership programs are not supporting organizational leaders to develop those skill sets.

As we expand our leadership mindset to understand leadership as a collective process, more people are questioning the leadership assumptions that are embedded in traditional organizational structures and processes. For instance, are hierarchical accounting and reporting structures the most effective way to ensure accountability in all circumstances? When might trust and the quality of relationships established among people in groups be a better foundation for accountability than the exercise of authority? Are organizations the best from for catalyzing new leadership and spreading innovation? When might networks create more leadership opportunities and increase the reach of new ideas and practices? Network forms of leadership increasingly coexist with organizational forms. How do we become smarter about how to use these forms in appropriate ways? How can organizational leaders create more space for network forms of leadership? How can leadership programs support organizational leaders to develop network leadership competencies?

  • How can we prepare organizational leaders to work in a networked world? (Patti Anklam)
The principal task of preparing organizational leaders is to provide them with the language and tools they need to be able to discern and describe network activity, the insights they need to understand network structure, and an appreciation for the vital yet often subtle tasks of managing a network’s context. When leaders can take the network view, or (as we like to say) look through the network lens, they can distinguish the ways in which networks – both formal and informal – are supporting or detracting from the work at hand; they can also identify and leverage the people who are key brokers or connectors in the network or work to stimulate or weave the network to increase connections supporting knowledge flow, innovation, and social capital.

We have always had, and will generally always need, two forms of network in organizations: the formal and the informal. The formal organization is represented by the (usually) hierarchical organization structure. The links, or ties, in these structures are reporting relationships. They represent commitments and obligations that go in both directions. Formal structures are essential for processes and tasks that require discipline, measurement, and decision-making. This formal organization provides the illusion of control; however it is the informal organization, the organization between the lines and in the white spaces that supports the scaffolding of the hierarchy.

Leadership in a networked world implies being able to distinguish the formal and the informal and to understand how to balance the two.
Leaders also need to work at three levels of network: the personal, the organizational, and the ecosystem in which the organization lives.
Without a strong and diverse personal network, a leader will lack the ability to influence decisions, be unable to bring expertise into the organization as needed, and may not have the emotional resources required to thrive in a complex environment. Leaders need to learn how to cultivate their personal networks, and know when and how to manage the time required to maintain these networks.
The organizational network is best served by a leader who can manage the “net work of leadership:” that is, they create the capacity in others to understand and work in networks and they know how to steward the network by creating conditions for networks to emerge and succeed. These include intentional “weaving” of organizations by developing joint project work, initiating linkages between organizations, creating incentives for people to collaborate across boundaries, and so on.
Successful leaders know that the organization does not succeed or fail on its own, that it is part of an ecosystem of groups and organization that extend well past the boundaries of the corporate hierarchy or even its formal partnership agreements. This value network, or web of formal and informal relationships that must be managed, is the third level of network a leader needs to understand and articulate.
At all three levels of network, and across the formal/informal dimension, leaders need to learn to leverage technology. Social media in its many forms – blogs, Twitter, social networking sites, wikis, etc. – can strengthen existing networks as well as stimulate new networks. Collaboration sites and communication services enable networks to circle the globe, enhancing personal and organizational networks with channels for information flow, listening, and feedback that were never before possible.
This is what it means to live in a networked world. There are tools that leaders can learn to use that will help them see the structure of networks as well as models for network stewardship that emerging from practice and evolving through technology. It is among the greatest challenges that leaders face; harnessing this knowledge also provides some of the greatest opportunities for innovation, learning, and sustainability.

Related Articles:
  1. "Leadership and Networks" by Patti Anklam (6/10/10)
  2. Article posted on Beth Kanter's blog as a guest blog post (6/2/10)
  • What is the role of technology in supporting network leadership? (Natalia Castaneda)
Networks are effective ways of sharing information, communicating and collaborating. They are flexible and adaptable, morphing in response to the people involved and the task at hand. They are dynamic by nature and have the potential to produce lasting effects. We believe that if we focus the energy of networks, and spark connections, we can accomplish unprecedented results in the social sector. Technology elevates the potential and impact of networks, making it an intrinsic element of our discussion on network leadership.

Increasingly, groups of people are using technology to go beyond connection and information sharing into collaborative action, typically in response to crises. These are some examples of how technology is bringing down barriers of location and time, optimizing the communication flow, and nurturing innovation and creativity.

Prior to the recent earthquake in Haiti, the Open Street Map of Port-au-Prince was underdeveloped compared to other regions of the world. The maps are populated by people all over the world – they operate on a community-generated data model. After the earthquake, GeoEye released satellite imagery and allowed the open-source community to use it. People around the world began editing the map and filling in the missing information, highlighting refugee camps and other crucial information. The group worked together – yet, remotely – exercising leadership, perhaps in a non-traditional way, by leveraging data and ultimately playing a significant role in this relief effort. (Berners-Lee 2010)

Another great example is Ushahidi, an open-source project that seeks to create a platform that any person or organization can use to collect information and visualize it. The platform aggregates the information and allows people to track trends and inform decisions. It was originally developed to track reports of ethnic violence in Kenya in 2008, but has been growing ever since, playing a key role in recent relief efforts. By 2009, the platform had been used for monitoring elections in India and Mexico, and coordinating storm cleanup after Washington, D.C.’s “Snowmaggedon.” (Bernholz et al. 2010) Ushahidi has been used to achieve tangible results (people donating, providing support, continuing to spread awareness/campaigns all over the world). By opening up access to information, Ushahidi is modeling the type of collaboration needed to respond to crises more effectively.

These network models of collaborating and solving problems together are different from organizational models – they are driven by groups and individuals who are motivated by a desire to find social solutions, and who think about accountability in more flexible and practical terms (Bernholz et al. 2010). However, the lack of formal structure – for instance, in the case of Ushahidi – has proven to be a challenge when it comes to applying for funds from foundations (Bernholz et al. 2010). We will address issues of network funding and support in another section of this report.

So what does this mean for you? How can you leverage technology to support your leadership work? A recent report, Social by Social (Gibson et al. n.d.), outlines a series of important propositions for understanding what technology means and how it should be leveraged:
  • “People make technology matter”: Technology is a great ally in the collaborative process, but it is a supporter rather than a driver. Ideas and relationships are far more important than the technology that supports them.
  • “Know your limits”: While technology is a great tool to help groups brainstorm, connect and even execute ideas, it has its limitations.
  • “In user-centric design, everyone is right”: Adapt your technology and tools to meet the needs of the network participants.
  • Focus on the early adopters of the technology – they will become your evangelists.
  • “Failure is useful”: Learn from the good and the bad – what worked and what didn’t work.

Some of those propositions resonate with the principles of network leadership: openness, empowerment, decentralization, and experimentation. More than ever, technology is proving to be a great ally in advancing the principles and impact of network leadership.

Berners-Lee, T., 2010. Tim Berners-Lee: The year open data went worldwide. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_the_year_open_data_went_worldwide.html.

Bernholz, L., Skloot, E. & Varela, B., 2010.
Disrupting Philanthropy Technology and the Future of the Social Sector, Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. Available at: http://cspcs.sanford.duke.edu/sites/default/files/DisruptingPhil_online_FINAL.pdf.

Gibson, A. et al.,
Social by Social, Available at: http://www.socialbysocial.com/sites/www.socialbysocial.com/files/social_by_social_pdf_download_creative_commons.pdf.
  • When and how to invest in network leadership and what forms this type of investment might take? (Diana Scearce)
There is a clear and growing interest among the funding community in networks and network forms of leadership. Think back to the movement to support organizational effectiveness in the ‘90s. Support for capacity building activities like strategic planning, communications, and board development is now widespread and their potential for leveraged impact rarely disputed. I think we’re at a similar moment with network effectiveness. The ability to understand, support, participate in, lead and weave networks will be a critical capacity for social change in this century, and growing numbers of funders recognize this. About a year and a half ago I began facilitating a community of practice for funders who are intentionally supporting and working through networks; we call it the ‘Network of Network Funders.’ There are about 20 grantmakers in the core group, 40 more who participate in our online workspace, and countless others I’ve interacted with who want to experiment in this space. Philanthropic support for networks and network leadership is not yet a mainstream best practice. It’s still a ‘next practice.’ But, my bet is that in 5 years it will have moved away from the periphery and into the center of philanthropic practice. So, how are funders investing in network leadership today? Most efforts to support networks are somehow linked to process –e.g., building and weaving relationships, network strategy development. Here are some of the ways in which funders are investing in networks at different stages of a network’s evolution:

When trying to understand networks*, support:

  • Mapping—of social networks, of issues, of funding flows

When knitting networks, support:
  • Network weaving: one or multiple people who are dedicated to making and strengthening connections throughout the network.
  • Network in-person connectivity: gathering space, travel, food, and coordination costs; facilitation.
  • Network on-line connectivity: online infrastructure, network technology stewards (someone who facilitates use of technology to share information, coordinate or learn together).

When organizing or growing networks, support the ‘knitting networks’ activities, plus:
  • Network strategy development.
  • Core funding (e.g. ongoing maintenance of infrastructure, staff salaries).
  • Innovation funds (support for small projects emerging from the network).
  • Evaluation and building network capacity for ongoing learning and adaptation.

When transforming or transitioning networks, support:
  • Evaluation and network strategy development.
Investments in overall network health and development, like those above, are also often an investment in the network’s leadership. There have been few targeted efforts to invest in the development of network leaders or weavers to date, but some exciting prospects are unfolding. A couple years back I worked with the Packard Foundation to do a ‘network audit’ in order to understand the needs of grantees formally structured as networks. Most of the individuals we spoke with played a coordination or weaving role in the network. The large majority of them expressed a frustration with their isolation –often as the sole person with dedicated time and responsibility for the network. They requested opportunities for training in facilitation and for learning from their peers facing similar challenges in other networks. Now a group of eight funders, led by the Packard Foundation, is getting ready to launch a community of practice for network weavers. It will kick off later this year, with the leadership of June Holley, and run for about 12 months. The learning about supporting network leadership will, no doubt be rich. Stay tuned!

*Above network lifecycle model adapted from the work of iScale and June Holley & Valdis Krebs.


  • How do we foster collaborative organizations and organize collaborative networks for social change? (Kendra Harris, Ed. D., East Carolina University)
Comparison and contrast between spontaneous or informally organized collaborative effort and collaborative effort within the context of a formalized organization poses some interesting questions about how bureaucratic involvement dampens effectiveness of collaborative activity and where the threshhold of that activity lies. Higher education organizations provide one venue of exploration in which research may shed light on exploring organized collaboration in contrast to collaborative organizations and whether there are limits of effectiveness placed on collective productivity once sustaining the organization takes over as the prime directive.

Dominant leadership paradigms tend to isolate leadership within an individual rather than to conceptualize it as a dynamic process involving contributions of multiple individuals (Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum, 1989; Bisbee, 2007; Darling & Ishler, 1992; Friedrich, Vessey, Schuelke, Ruark, & Mumford, 2009; Maak & Pless, 2006; Richmon & Allison, 2003). Thus, these paradigms miss the collective nature of leadership within collaborative organizations. For higher education in particular, institutional administration is a collective effort, occurring within shared governance between faculty and administration, and among collective leadership teams. These elements of higher education organizations and their leadership form the basis of collaborative governance in which it becomes increasingly challenging to explore leadership using individualistic paradigms.

Collectivist models of leadership may be more pertinent to describing institutional leadership than would an individualist model and may better serve to explore participatory forms of governance than would models focused on a single individual holding positional power. Emergent interactive and collaborative perspectives suggest leadership could be conceived as a “team property” (Carson, Tesluk, & Marrone, 2007) and that leadership emerges from interactive processes within a social context (Lichtenstein, Uhl-Bien, Marion, Seers, Orton, and Schreiber, 2006; Uhl-Bien, Marion and McKelvey, 2007), implying a shift in the locus of leadership from individual traits or qualities to processes of group collaboration.

In the paradigm of organization-as-system, conceptualization of a single individual as the locus of leadership lacks power to illuminate environmental context and misses that the “changing role of higher education require(s) a practice of leadership that goes beyond individual and institutional orientation. System concepts invite educators to focus attention on the systemic and societal implications of their decisions” (Burkhardt, 2002). Models currently applied to higher education leadership are limited in their ability to portray higher education leaders as members of the system in which they operate. Few offer the means to link higher education to social change. With an individual view of leadership, examination of leaders themselves would only include “a few of the variables that may impact organizational performance” (Pfeffer, 1977). Describing leadership thusly may narrow understanding of the scope of potential leadership influence and opportunity and may limit possibility to explore the leadership system, rather than one particular individual, as the heart of organizational leadership.

With “virtually no scholarship” exploring the nature of leadership as a system (Kezar & Eckel, 2004, p. 373), there remain untapped possibilities for exploring collective efforts that comprise leadership in practice in higher education administration and offer potential to conceive leadership beyond the scope of an individual. Understanding collaborative leadership in a system framework allows consideration of organizational environment, including larger society and other organizations, fostering a richer understanding of the role of leadership in organization-level partnership and social change.


  • Bensimon, E. M., Neumann, A., & Birnbaum, R. L. (1989). Higher education and leadership theory. Making sense of administrative leadership, ASHE-ERIC research report, No. 1. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.
  • Bisbee, D. C. (2007). Looking for leaders: Current practices in leadership identification in higher education. Planning and Changing, 38(1/2), 77 – 88.
  • Burkhardt, J. C. (2002). Boundary-spanning leadership in higher education. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 8(2), 145 – 150.
  • Carson, J. B., Tesluk, P. E., & Marrone, J. A. (2007). Shared leadership in teams: An investigation of antecedent conditions and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 50 (5), 1217 – 1234.
  • Darling, J. R. & Ishler, R. E. (1992). Determinants of effective administrative leadership in the academic institution. Organization Development Journal, 10(4), 43 – 52.
  • Friedrich, T. L., Vessery, W. B., Schuelke, M. J., Ruark, G. A., & Mumford, M. D. (2009). A framework for understanding collective leadership: the selective utilization of leader and team expertise within networks. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 933 – 958.
  • Kezar, A., & Eckel, P. D. (2004). Meeting today’s governance challenges. The Journal of Higher Education, 75 (4), 371 – 399.
  • Lichtenstein, B. B., Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., Seers, A., Orton, J. D., & Schreiber, C. (2006). Complexity Leadership Theory: an interactive perspective on leading in complex adaptive systems. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 8 (4), 2 – 12.
  • Maak, T., & Pless, N. M. (2006). Responsible leadership in a stakeholder society – a relational perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 66: 99-115.
  • Pfeffer, J. (1977). The ambiguity of leadership. Academy of Management Review, 12(1).
  • Richmon, M. J., & Allison, D. J. (2003). Toward a conceptual framework for leadership inquiry. Educational Management & Administration, 31(1), 31 – 50.
  • Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18, 298 – 318.

  • Why is working through networked approaches a core strategy for pursuing sustainability?
Author: Beth Tener, www.ndcollaborative.com

Consider these scenarios:
  • Every hotel could adopt greener practices, such as saving water, reducing energy use, serving food from local farms in its restaurants – and many leaders already have. How do we get the rest of the hotels to learn from the leaders and adopt these innovations?
  • Buildings are responsible for about one-third of energy use in the US and their construction consumes large amounts of resources and generates considerable waste. How could we redesign how buildings are built and operated to greatly reduce these impacts? This is not an easy task when you consider how many ‘players’ are involved, such as architects, building owners, builders, and construction material suppliers to name a few.
  • In the non-profit sector, thousands of organizations are working on various aspects of environmental protection and social justice. How could their work be aligned to enhance their impact?
These scenarios represent the type of actions needed to achieve sustainability. In each case, to make progress, we need to work across organizational boundaries. Collaborating in networks is imperative to achieve the scale of transformation required to make our organizations, communities, and ecosystems sustainable.

What is sustainability?
Definitions of “sustainability” abound. At its core, it is a shift from intervening to fix a problem that causes an environmental impact to preventing negative impacts before they arise. We do this, for example, by redesigning how business operates, how buildings are built and operated, or how we grow food.

To intervene at the level of designing away and preventing problems requires collaboration across disciplines, organizations, and sectors. The following examples illustrate how and why networked approaches are emerging as a vital strategy for sustainability:

How can we quickly replicate sustainable innovations across many similar organizations? As the hotel example above illustrates, every sector and type of institution needs to make similar changes to reduce energy use, resource consumption, and use of toxic materials. Networks that facilitate peer learning and sharing of best practices enable these improvements to spread more rapidly and avoid each organization’s “reinventing the wheel.”

For example, the Boston Green Tourism initiative hosts educational events every six weeks for hotels and restaurants in Boston, featuring instruction, updates, and case studies about how to green their operations. At a recent event, the Boston Hyatt Hotel shared how it achieved a 42% reduction in energy use, allowing other hotel managers to learn about and adopt similar practices. By working in networks, organizations can also coordinate their efforts to overcome common barriers they face in adopting sustainable practices, e.g., by lobbying for regulatory changes that make it more affordable for all network members to install renewable energy.

How can we transform industries and markets to be sustainable? One organization cannot become sustainable alone; it requires that the larger “ecosystems” it works within to transform as well. For example, a business can often only go so far in “greening” its operations before it recognizes that it has to engage its suppliers and educate its market to create demand for green product and services. By collaborating in networks, each business benefits by helping to define industry standards for what is green, creating a common third-party certification that they are a leader that customers will recognize, and investing in joint research to develop new policies and technologies.

For example, an unprecedented coalition representing all of the major players in the building industry, including architects, construction firms, manufacturers of building supplies, and commercial developers created the US Green Building Council (USGBC) to “promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.” Representatives from diverse professional disciplines, industries, and companies collaborated to develop standards for a high-performance building, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Since it was founded in 1993, the Council has grown to almost 18,000 member companies and organizations and now more than 4.5 billion square feet and 35,000 projects have registered with USGBC to become LEED certified.

Similar market-wide networks are emerging in many sectors including the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the Green Restaurant Association, the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council, the Sustainable Children’s Products Initiative, and Health Care Without Harm, which is greening health care institutions.

How can we align and magnify the impact of thousands of non-profit organizations working on similar sustainability goals? In the non-profit sector, a multitude of people and organizations are working to create a more healthy sustainable society. Yet their work is often uncoordinated, duplicated, and underfunded. In one example of how a network approach can help address this challenge, a foundation in Boston convened a network of about ten non-profits from the environmental and health fields, as well as representatives of the City of Boston. A foundation staff person saw potential for the participants to work together to promote green and healthy buildings in the City, since their goals were similar and overlapped. Few of the groups were aware of what the others were doing.

A network facilitator inventoried the types of audiences and strategies each non-profit was pursuing so the group could identify areas of duplication and gaps. After two years of collaboration in the Boston Green and Healthy Building Network, participants reported that following outcomes:
  • Enhanced connectivity among the Network participants that led to new relationships, expanded knowledge, and greater awareness of each other's work.
  • Greater alignment and coordination of advocacy work by the non-profit organizations and enhanced access to decision-makers.
  • The integration of green and healthy building objectives in tangible projects by the City of Boston and within the work of participating non-profit organizations.
  • New collaborations among Network organizations that led to significant gains in promoting green and healthy buildings.
A Chinese proverb states: "If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed." Imagine the pace of change possible as we connect and align the work of the millions of people organizations pursuing the vision of a sustainable world.

  • What does leadership look like in a healthy network?
Author: Bruce Hoppe

Source: http://connectedness.blogspot.com/

The Leadership Learning Community is hosting an interesting conversation on network leadership. As part of that dialogue, Claire Reinelt put to me the question, "What does leadership look like in a healthy network?"

In response, I turn to The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. This ancient Chinese book of wisdom has inspired many translators to describe leaders and leadership of healthy networks. A few examples are below.

The best leader is one whose existence is barely known by the people.
True Persons do not offer words lightly.
When their task is accomplished and their work is completed,
The people say, "It happened to us naturally."
--Tolbert McCarroll (trans 1982)

When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists.
The Master doesn't talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
"Amazing: we did it all by ourselves!"
--Stephen Mitchell (trans 1988)

The "very highest" by those below is just known to exist.
He takes his time, oh, as he weighs his words carefully.
And, when success is had and the task accomplished,
The common folk all say, "We just live naturally."
--Richard John Lynn (trans 1999)

To know Tao alone without trace of your own existence is the highest.
The great ruler speaks little and his words are priceless.
He works without self-interest and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say, "It happened by itself."
--Jonathan Star (trans 2001)

The very highest is barely known by men.
When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, "We did it!"
--Gia-Fu Feng (trans 1972)

BTW, this is not the first time the Tao Te Ching has graced these pages.
  • See here for Taoist perspective on the spread of information.
  • See here and here for Taoist perspective on naming and organizing things.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2010 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.

  • Transcend Organizational Constraints (Gibran Rivera)
Interaction Institute for Social Change

This is a very exciting time for those of us who are working to apply the logic of networks to the work of social change. Our ideas are gaining traction as more and more experiments start to point towards success. Life online, the viral nature of meaningful stories and our human desire for deeper connection all serve to confirm our intuitive understanding of life in a network. However, as we step into this paradigm shift, as we start to approve of these ideas, we still have to contend with the constraints of the organizational and funding structures within which we currently work.

A few years ago, my hardest challenge was in persuading my peers in this work that networks made more sense than the more familiar organizational and coalitional structures with which we were working. Today more and more people “get” that it’s about networks, but we have not figured out how to arrange our work together so that we can more easily step into this paradigm.

How then do we transcend our organizational constraints? Some of my more courageous friends have simply said “enough,” they’ve given up the security of organizational structures and ventured out on their own in order to find the freedom to connect with others and actually live into a network. I celebrate their choice, I wish them success and I intend to remain among the people they choose to work with.

But while abandoning a calcifying infrastructure should become a more viable choice, I am also interested in finding ways to shift the way we work even within our organizations. If we start to do things differently within our organizations, then we will force them to change while keeping them as vehicles wherever we still find them useful. This is way easier said than done, systems are incredibly resilient and they are mightily resistant to change.

A set of ideas that I have been playing with are directly inspired by the now famous 20% time that Google offers its employees – “enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren't necessarily in [their] job descriptions.” But my idea is a bit different. I am encouraging boldly innovative organizations to give 20% to the right employees so that they can network. By network I mean the gamut – build relationships, support other (and potentially unrelated) projects, convene other stakeholders, spend time learning from each other, devote time to online social networks – I am referring to those actions that are hard to fit into a strategic plan, but that are the very actions that make for a networked organization.

Inspired by Leadership for a New Era’s piece on “A New Leadership Mindset for Scaling Social Change,” I would couple this idea for connecting with building more intentional time for learning and reflecting within the organization. Staff meetings would have to include time for sharing stories from the field, relatively loose exchanges about what each “networked employee” is up to during their 20% time. The sharing of stories instead of bullet point memos allows employees to better swim in the complexity of a network, develop a shared sense of the emergent field and welcome unexpected connections.

Both of these steps are extremely challenging to implement in the context of our current “overwork” crisis. Accountability measure would have to change and the boldly innovative organization would have to undergo the adaptive shift – the shift in values, beliefs and assumptions – that would allow it to understand that tending to a network is a more strategic choice than overworking your team in search of the sort of outcome that is more easily measurable but less likely to make change.

  • Network Leadership (Madeleine Taylor)

  • Organizational vs Network vs Collective Leadership
(suggestions for labels for comparison domains, delete if not what you had in mind) Organizational Network Leadership Leadership as Collective Process
Source of Power Position, Authority Role, behavior Roles, Accountability
Level of Influence Individual Collective Personal Work, Relational, Connected
Motivational Style Control Facilitative Facilitative, in service of group
Leadership Mode Directive Emergent Emergent, Adaptive, active learning
Leadership Style Transactional Relational, connected Transformational, bridging, systemic
Locus of Influence Top-down Bottom-up Dynamic, multidirectional
Leadership Focus Action-oriented Process-oriented Process, Action, Results


  • How can a network mindset be cultivated and supported?

  • What are core network leadership competencies?

  • How does network leadership emerge through a collective process in communities?

  • How do we make the case for using network leadership for leadership programs who are on the fence and unsure about the importance of this approach?

  • How do we help people overcome the fear of using network strategies?

  • What is the capacity of individuals to organize without organizations using technology?


  • When are network approaches to leadership called for?

  • Networks as a strategy for sustainability
  • Networks as a strategy for civic participation and movement-building
  • Networks as a strategy for coordinating and scaling policy implementation
  • Networks as a strategy for developing innovative solutions to complex problems
  • Networks as a strategy for community-building

  • What are the benefits and costs of leading through networks?

  • Benefits
    • Adaptability
    • Access to broad talent pool
    • Depth of experience and perspective
    • Increased participation, support and "buy-in"
    • Increased capacity for innovation
    • Shared success and recognition
  • Costs
    • Individual power
    • Immediacy of singular decision-making
    • Time required for network maintenance
  • What are network leadership competencies?

  • Openness and transparency
  • Presence and listening
  • Compassion and love
  • Systems thinking
  • Weaving
  • Experiential and action learning
  • An ability to create a shared sense of purpose
  • Commitment to shared values
  • Being accountable to a group and larger community

  • What are leadership roles within networks?

    (idea: alternative label to conceptualize network leadership, perhaps representing the network as a collective leadership effort?)
  • What are roles within leadership networks?
Sources: Monitor Institute slideshare and Boston LLC gathering on Leadership and Networks

Invitation: Add definitions to terms and add new terms

  • Organizer (e.g., someone who frames the value proposition and establishes the first links to participants)
  • Weaver (e.g., someone who works to increases connections among participants, closing triangles or making connections to new participant)
  • Funder or sponsor (e.g., providing resources for organizing and on-going support of networks)
  • Coordinator/facilitator (e.g., create the conditions for self-organizing, ensure flow of information and other resources)
  • Technology steward (e.g., facilitate the network use of online technologies to learn, coordinate, connect or share information together)
  • Igniter (catalyst for new ideas, new conceptualizations of existing ideas, catalyst for network action and gathering and sustaining momentum)
  • Broadcaster (e.g., facilitates dissemination of collective knowledge and communication among network and to external environment)
  • Translator (e.g., gathers and synthesizes input from within network, between organizations and from the environment outside network, facilitates common understanding of information within network and develops shared meaning)
  • Knowledge manager (e.g., similar to the Translator, gathers information from within and external to network, develops standards or filters to cull for most relevant and important information, prioritizes incoming and outgoing information)
  • Coach
  • Where is transformative network leadership happening in organizations and communities?

  • Organizations
  • Communities
    • The story of the Promotora Institute in Nogales Arizona
    • Lawrence CommunityWorks

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