Network leadership and other animals…

We should all be rethinking our leadership skills to make sure that they work in the 21st Century. The network society needs networked leaders – but this risks being rather a trite statement unless I try and unpack it a bit.

I have been thinking about the nature of networked leadership a lot recently. One of my reasons for going from running a small business to being part of a huge one was to explore my own leadership skills in a different context. It can get too easy to just be ‘in charge’ of your own thing and I wanted to develop other skills as part of exploring how systems change (more on system change here if you are interested).

The list below is part of this exploration and each of these are at least a blog post in their own right – this post is a just a way of me organising the list and deciding what I want to dig into a bit deeper. As I wrote it I was thinking about the vast amount of stuff already written about leadership – I’m trying hard not to repeat but instead to put it in context for the digital age.


  • Able to work with networked power: The first quality has to be about the ability to lead with influence and to understand how to convene and connect people in order to get stuff done. Its something that good leaders do instinctively but I think sometimes don’t notice.
  • Confident and open with their personal relevance: In order to be effective in a network or a community you need to be really clear on what your personal contribution is. I think this is where social media comes into its own as a way of communicating your personal contribution to the system or network you are trying to lead – as well as being visible to the people who you can’t speak to on a daily basis. I wrote this piece a little while about the role that social media can play for leaders.
  • Able to work in a multidisciplinary way: I think that the kinds of problems we are working with and the scale of change that we can see in all areas means that we have to become adept at multidisciplinary working. I wrote more on this for Public Service Digital a little while ago to unpack this a bit.

Learning and knowledge making

  • Open to innovation and experimentation: This is a big one for me! Not just because of my interest in innovation as a driver of system change but because I am an action researcher who is constantly trying to bring an experimental discipline to what we do – we are working in a constantly changing content and I think and experimental mindset is essential if you want to steer a set of values or outcomes through
  • Data & research literate: These goes hand in hand but a networked leader needs to be able to lean into research and data in order to inform decision making. There are so many reasons why the ability to read a report and make a judgement about the people who wrote it is not enough – you need new skills for sense making.

Digitally literate
I’ve written about this a lot in other places but once again – we have to have zero tolerance for digital ignorance. You need a digital mindset and some basic skills. Part of this is an appreciation of the fact that digital means different things for different people (this is what I am getting at with the digital tribes thinking) but also about different approaches, project management methods and also delivery channels. I have a bee in my bonnet about care and maintenance of websites – the analogy is a plant which you carefully tend in the green house and then just plant out and let it either die or thrive. Good websites are like plants – they need tending.

This list of work in progress – so comments very welcome.

And a final thought – being in charge in the way I described at the start is entirely an illusion – you can cajole, influence and create the right context but as soon as you think you are in charge you are probably not a networked leader.

One comment
  1. Ruth Graham Morgan

    April 17, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Thanks, Catherine – I have been working on a paper about matrix management but really networked leadership is much improved phrase. That said, they are the same sort of concept – and underpinned by a culture that recognises its values….I’ll share when done.


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