Network perspective is a 21st-century leadership imperative.
Network perspective is the ability to look beyond formal, designated relationships and see the complex web of connections between people in and beyond your organization.
Now that you know what it is, here’s why you need it:
1. Connections matter. Individuals do not exist in isolation and their connections provide opportunities, access to value information and resources, and also create constraints. The people they are connected to influence their ideas, attitudes and behaviors.
2. Work often happens through informal channels. Even after decades of restructuring, work activities often occur through interactions outside of formal reporting and working relationships. Understanding informal networks is especially important in flat, team-based and agile work environments where formal structure provides little guidance.
3. Leadership occurs through relationships. Direction, alignment and commitment are created through relationships between people working on shared challenges. All people contribute to this process and thus, leadership may be shared throughout the network. Further, boundary spanning leadership requires network perspective to accurately see and build connections between groups.
4. Successful leaders develop networks of strong, diverse relationships. They realize that under- and over-connectivity stifles performance and limits outcomes. Purposeful (strategic) and authentic networking is the key to developing healthy networks that prevent insularity.
5. Network knowledge is an asset in change efforts. Relying on formal, vertical channels alone hinders capacity to adapt to emerging issues. Change efforts may be accelerated by activating informal networks and enhancing the network’s capacity to span boundaries. This approach is critically important in cultural transformation because organizational culture lives largely within the connections between people. Understanding these connections provides insights into subcultures, pockets of resistance and hidden champions of the transformation.
6. Innovation networks can be identified and supported. Innovation first requires new, creative ideas. But new ideas are not enough; they must be implemented in the organization. Research suggests network structures that facilitate creativity and implementation differ from each other in specific ways. Organizations need networks that support the generation and sharing of diverse ideas as well as collective action.
7. The most important challenges leaders face today are interdependent. Complex challenges cannot be addressed by individuals alone. They can only be solved by groups of people working collaboratively across boundaries (hierarchies, geographic regions, functional silos, stakeholder interests and demographic differences). A network perspective is the key to thriving in a world in which everything is, or will be, connected.
This article is an excerpt from the CCL white paper, Developing Network Perspective: Understanding the Basics of Social Networks and their Role in Leadership. You might also be interested in the article 5 Behaviors of a Network-Savvy Leader.