Networking and Leadership Development

Hoppe and Reinelt suggested a framework for classifying networks with a particular focus on networks that organizational leaders might join as part of their leadership development efforts in order to gain access to resources and other support.  They noted that while leadership networks may be intentionally created, they also often emerge from a strong need or desire of the members of the networks to become and remain connected.  The four types of networks in their framework were as follows:

  • Peer Leadership Network: A peer network is based on social ties among leaders who are connected with one another on the basis of the shared interests and commitments, shared work, or shared experiences. A peer network provides leaders with access to resources that they believe are trustworthy and can be used by leaders to share information, provide advice and support, learn from one another and collaborate together.  Gaining access to a peer network is often one of the fundamental goals of a leadership development program.
  • Organizational Leadership Network: The social ties established in an organizational leadership network are focused on increasing performance.  Ties in this type of network are often informal and exist outside of the formal organizational structure and provide leaders with the means to consult with colleagues outside of their departments or business units in order to solve problems more quickly.  In some cases, organizational networks are intentionally created, in the form of cross-functional teams or communities of practice, to bridge gaps in the formal organizational structure that may be impeding performance and progress toward organizational goals (e.g., completing a new product and/or delivering services to customers more efficiently).
  • Field-Policy Leadership Network: Leaders who share common interests and a commitment to influencing a field of practice or policy may come together to form a network that can be used to shape the environment surrounding the topic of mutual interest (e.g., frame the issue, clarify underlying assumptions and/or establish standards for what is expected of key stakeholders). This type of network can be a powerful tool for collective advocacy on issues and policies that are of common importance to multiple organizations and can facilitate mobilization of support and allocation of resources.
  • Collective Leadership Network: A collective leadership network, which is based on a common cause or share goals, emerges and enlarges over time.  The process begins with local groupings that eventually interact with groups in other areas to form larger networks and a much broader community that allows members to pursue specific goals while feeling a part of something that is larger than oneself.

Hoppe and Reinelt emphasized that the framework was largely for illustrative purposes and that many networks are actually hybrids of multiple categories or simply fail to fit neatly into one of their network types.  What is important from a leadership development perspective is the potential value of networks to current and prospective leaders in terms of access to information, advice, support and other learning benefits.  Networking also provides leaders with a foundation for identifying potential collaborators for new initiatives and impacting the external environment of the organizations they lead.

The relative position of leaders within their networks is an important consideration.  In some cases, leaders enjoy strong ties to others members of their network (“bonding connections”) and thus have a feeling of affiliation and connectivity to a trusted community where interactions are familiar and efficient.  However, leaders also need to have “bridging” or “brokerage” connections which, while weaker than bonding connections, nonetheless provide them with essential paths to accessing new resources and developing new opportunities for innovation and profit.  A “bridger” is a person in a network who has connections to different clusters and is typically someone who is deeply embedded in relaying information among other network members.  In this capacity, a leader can gain recognition and trust as a key broker of access and knowledge and as someone who is positioned to move projects that require collaboration from people in different parts of the organizational network.  As a leader’s reputation grows, he or she is more likely to become a “hub” in a network, which means someone who is a highly-sought resource for advice by other members of the network. The influence of a hub increases to the extent that the persons who seek his or her advice are themselves relatively more influential in the network.

To learn more, see B. Hoppe and C. Reinelt, “Social Network Analysis and the Evolution of Leadership Networks”, The Leadership Quarterly, 21 (2010), 600, 601.  This post is an excerpt from Chapter 2 (“Leadership Traits and Attributes”) of “Leadership: A Library of Resources for Sustainable Entrepreneurs”, which is prepared and distributed by the Sustainable Entrepreneurship and available here.

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