Dec. 15 Webinar: Network Leadership & the Role of Foundations, with the LLC

Overview: The Leadership Learning Community has been leading a collaborative research project on leadership and networks. Claire Reinelt, Deborah Meehan and Natalia Castaneda of the LLC joined for the call and share with us a synthesis of insights about leadership in networks.

Pre-work: Please take a moment to read the LLC's blog post on leadership in networks, written to help provoke our conversation:

Presentation Material:

Conversation Highlights:

To kick off the call, participants were asked to share in the web “chat” two words that come to mind when thinking of leadership in networks. Following are their thoughts:
  • Phrases like “Distributed,” “Open,” “Decentralized,” and “Un-led but supported” came up most frequently (with 4, 2, 1, and 1 references, respectively).
  • Other common themes included: “Connection” or “connected;” and “Shared power,” “Empowering,” and “ Impact"
  • Additional phrases included: “mushy,” “unexpected,” “charismatic,” “tenacious,” “chaotic ,” “never-ending ,” “herding cats,” and “small ''l'' leadership - good if shared.”

In discussing leadership characteristics in relation to the “Rethinking Leadership: Network Approach” content, participants’ comments explored:
  • What organizational leadership capacity is needed to participate effectively in a network?
    • More diffuse leadership types within networks are producing results that differ from more traditional structures.
    • For some networks, the best participants come from strong organizations with solid platforms, which seem necessary to enable participants to show leadership in an outside network.
  • Questions around potential lessons from the Civil Rights Movement, and the applicability of LLC’s leadership categorizations to case studies:
    • Participants explored the definition of a “movement”
      • Networks with a focused, usually short-term goal (e.g., the Obama election campaign).
      • Networks focused on a bigger goal, but not necessarily a focused one (e.g., the Civil Rights movement had many goals, as does the Tea Party Movement).
      • Networks focused on a very long term goal (e.g., generational shifts in beliefs, such as re-framing smoking as bad for health outcomes).
    • Depending on whether goals are short term or long term, network members may participate differently (e.g., if they feel they need to build lasting connections in support of a long term movement, like the Civil Rights Movement).
      • Arguably you could have successful network-centric action without long term bods established.

We then explored three different types of network leadership: Distributed, Relational, and Collective:
  • Distributed:During the SARS outbreak in China, the Chinese government invested significant resources in attempting to sequence the SARS gene. UItimately a distributed network of labs around the world were able to coordinate their efforts and discover the gene sequence in record time.
  • Relational: Promotoras. Founded by a group of women who knew the community, culture, values, and language of the community, and could serve as a resource for people to turn to for advice regarding illnesses or other problems.
  • Collective: African Health Leadership Initiative. Designed to bridge the gap between health policy and implementation in Africa. Brought together stakeholders from business, government, community leadership, etc. to collaborate using the U-Process / Innovation Lab to develop and test field projects with the hope of being replicated on a larger scale.

The conversation then turned to how NNF participants are using networks, through a quick audience poll. “In your work, are you attempting to:”
  • Build leadership capacity in networks: 17%
    • Comment: The challenge for busy people may be the fear that if they emerge too much as a leader they may end up with too much work to do. We need pathways for people to emerge as leaders. What are the different entry points to engage people and tap into their capacity for sharing leadership without creating another burden?
  • Cultivate a network mindset among those engaged in leadership: 25%
    • Comments:
      • Giving leaders some staff capacity can make all the difference. Network participants need to agree on the requirements of leadership. One funder raised funds to hire part-time staff for each network member to enable them to coordinate working groups.
      • Leadership in networks can require people to play multiple roles at the same time (coordination, coaching, etc.). Clarity about the leadership role that is being taken on is critical.
  • Both: 58%

Participants were then asked to “chat” about other important considerations when supporting network leadership.
  • Sequencing: It's important to address a network mindset before building leadership capacity. Helpful to look at examples, talk about larger network interests, succession planning, experiment.
  • Action Learning: Support learning through first hand experience, learning networks, and collaboration about the importance of new connections across organizational silos.
  • Systems Architecture: Create an infrastructure based on a systems architecture so people understand nodes of activities. Restate the mission, how things get done, behavioral norms that reinforce how people operate in the context of a network.
  • Metrics: Talking about metrics of success that are not bound by organizations.
  • Control: Ask what is the worst thing that can happen if you give up control.

Three Key Strategies for network support were shared: Leadership Development and Training, Creating Spaces and Platforms, and Experiential Learning. In addition to these, participants also highlighted the importance of supporting (and following) alumni networks, and the difficulty in building relationships:
  • Supporting in-person convenings.
  • Supporting alumni networks:
    • : Fellowship/alumni work may provide a way to track network impact.
    • Impacts may not be clear at the outset - hard to set specific measurable goals.
    • *Potential future webinar: The impact of alumni networks, and what works in building them.
  • Building relationships
    • It takes a LONG time to build [relationships] and is quite costly.
    • It remains difficult to build [relationship building] into performance reviews / metrics that value ''relationships.” Leaders/bosses often view this as '' just chatting.''
    • Examples of relationship building programs included:
      • Barr Foundation has a sabbatical program for nonprofit leaders in the Boston Area. A dozen leaders spend two weeks together in developing countries. Intensive relationship building opportunity and disruption from day-to-day life. Outcome is a stronger network, with the hope that these Boston leaders will collaborate more actively in the future.
      • Lawrence Community Works, pioneers in developing a networked approach to community development, are working to create a robust platform to enable trust, connection, and reciprocity in a largely immigrant community with significant population turn over.

Post-Webinar Reflections:
What are you taking away? Post your top of mind reflection after our conversation. Please include your name.

Stephanie McAuliffe 12/22/10
I am enjoying sharing the wealth with this group. Your experiences with networks, and then the rich papers, websites etc are so much food for thought. I am really looking forward to January 14, putting a few more names with faces, and getting to know your networks and their challenges better. I am hoping to have a few days in the mountains to poke around at the wealth of content over New Year's.