First thoughts on Networked Leadership

I was one of 5 facilitators at the Solace Summit a couple of weeks ago and I have been mulling the experience ever since. The event was unusual in that rather having what has always been a perfectly good but rather traditional conference the Solace team (with some I have to confess provocation from myself and others) decided to try to create a more open process which enabled participating to co-produce a communinique around key issues for Solace to address over the coming months. You can read the output here. My first reflection is one of relief – last year it made me positively twitchy to see a group talented and influential people sit passively in a room instead of actually actively participating. Its so rare that you can convene this kind of group it always struck me as a horrible waste to then keep them quiet for most of the event. Happily the audience were hugely positive about the change in format and I think that we will see more of these kinds of events from Solace. Ultimately this is really good news for those of us who attend event such as LocalGovCamp and the like and who want to see better senior support for this kind of open space event – next time just ask them if they went to Solace this year.

I was responsible for the Economic Growth conversation – which was fascinating as its not my core field and made me learn and think about loads of interesting things which I won’t bore you with here. The question that has stuck with me for the last couple of weeks is what do we mean by a networked leader?

As is usually the case when you start talking with senior managers we all concluded that we needed leadership and not management if we were to see Local Government play a significant role in local economic growth. However the group was also convinced that the leadership for local government in this context was as a convenor and a facilitator and not as the person necessarily delivering the outcomes.

I have been thinking about networked leadership ever since and this post is a first attempt to start to put thoughts in order – next up will be doing some more reading around the subject and so any recommendations would be very welcome. I start from the position that leadership in a networked organisation is going to need very different qualities to those of a hierarchal leader – and that we need to explore these qualities if we want to create more networked organisations.

The first quality I think is the ability to create a vision and narrative of that vision which at the time as being focused enough to give direction is open enough to enable others to contribute to it. The organisational vision needs to be an ongoing – and public – conversation.

However to be credible in setting this vision it is essential that you have knowledge of your own place in the network and the value that you bring – and that this evident to the rest of the network. You cannot, in my view, be a leader in a networked organisation just by dint of job title – you need a strong place to stand and an arena in which you contribute to the overall information and activity exchange of the network. The social web is at heart a meritocracy and I believe that the network society has as similar emphasis on personal contribution and exchange.

At the same time as having a clear view of their own contribution the networked leader also needs to be an effective talent spotter – they need to be able to quickly find and amplify activities which contribute to the vision.

In doing this there is a need to be transparent with respect to decisions and to be able to explain these as being coherent with respect to vision and values.

In terms of activity – a lot of time will be spent giving feedback and amplifying activity from within the network – acting a curator as much as content creator.

But the single aspect that is at the same time a byproduct of the above and perhaps the most immediately realisable aspect of the networked leader within local government is the power that hierarchical based leaders have to convene people and conversations. This was the anchor point for the SOLACE conversation with general agreement that though local government is not necessarily going to lead local economic growth it can and should convene the networks which will make this possible and take a leading role in the curation of the conversation around the local economic narrative.

These are certainly qualities that I aspire to as I try to lead my own organisation – though I am also certain that I don’t consistently achieve them. The bigger question may be however whether or not this style of leadership is possibly in organisations made up of thousands of people in multiple overlapping networks and this is a question not just for organisations but perhaps for political parties – its certainly a question that the Occupy folks are concerning themselves with. I am sure that there is a lot of thinking already out there on this and I will start hunting for it.

Hierarchy is not always bad – I have been thinking about this with respect to the Virtual Policing project we’ve been working on with Sussex Police and frankly I am rather relieved that the Police have a command structure as in some situations you do need clear lines of control. However the question for me is whether you can retain the useful aspects of command and control hierarchy without comprising on the benefits and behaviours of the network society. That is definitely something I want to explore.

PS Please note that this has been filed in the ‘things I want to write about post PHD’ category – we’ll see how far I get in the meantime!!

  1. Pingback: Open by default and design | Curiouscatherine’s Blog |

  2. Markus Schaal

    November 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Networked Leadership is – in my humble opinion – only a buzzword to justify leadership in a world where everybody can contribute. What is evidently needed for any organization is “focused progress”, usually achieved by a shared vision. Leaders can act more quickly and more effectively in keeping the progress going and focused. They need to decide whether they are focusing on progress, direction, or just execution, depending on the maturity of the network.

    (I am a person who tries to gear the collaborative web towards global and actual democracy)

    • curiouscatherine

      November 15, 2011 at 8:56 am

      Hi Markus

      I don’t disagree – for me part of the reason for signalling the network in the title was the emphasise that there needs to be new skills if you want to operate in a networked way. Shared vision is something that every management guru for all time has banged on about – but it has an extra importance if you strip away the tools you have in a command structure that compensate for its absence.. As ever – good leaders will get this and be doing it anyway and have no need for the term – other people need to think a little more!!!

  3. Jonathan Flowers

    November 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Two thoughts:

    1. Need to overlay political as well as organisational leadership. If you are making the CE the networked leader then a key consideration to address is the relationship with the politicians.

    2. I find the tension between being a player with skin in the game, and a player and therefore a partial person with conflicting interests quite interesting. Argues for a democratic layer at that top level?

    Were we going to get together for a chat about this sort of stuff sometime?

    • curiouscatherine

      November 15, 2011 at 8:58 am

      Ah – didn’t even go there with the political leadership – but yes!!!

      I think with a network the idea of top layer is slightly redundant but yes – power does need to rest somewhere and it needs to be democratically mandated – not sure how though.

      And yes – def. to get together – will this time send dates…



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *