Thursday, August 27, 2009

Influence and social capital of 21st century leaders

My previous post summarized "four fundamentals of networks" with special emphasis on the context of leadership. Today I'll take a closer look at the foundation of the four fundamentals: personal influence. This foundation is highlighted in the bottom two quadrants below, which share a network focus on influential positions and roles:
These two quadrants provide a good foundation for at least a couple reasons:

First, most of us naturally equate leadership with positions of personal influence. In their excellent article "Social Capital of Twenty-First Century Leaders," Dan Brass and David Krackhardt begin by saying, "Accomplishing work through others has always been the essence of leadership"; later in the chapter they simplify this to "Influence is the essence of leadership." As I summarized in this post, Brass and Krackhardt then describe how aspiring leaders can use social networks to gain as much influence as quickly as possible. (Their article really is outstanding, FYI.)

Second, centrality and structural holes--the network concepts underlying the highlighted two quadrants--are the two most intuitive notions of network structure. If you find "structural holes" less intuitive than "centrality," then just substitute "clustering" in place of "structural holes." Clustering refers to groups, structural holes to the gaps between groups: Just like foreground and background, they define each other in complementary partnership.

The topic of personal influence in social networks gets lots of attention. For example, this announcement crossed my desk last week: "'Influence is the future of media'. Influence is the hottest topic in marketing, advertising, media and social media today. Find out how to tap the power of influence." It's not too late to sign up for

Another view of influence and social networks crossed my desk a month ago: Duncan Watts, Columbia sociologist and principal research scientist for Yahoo, told Fast Company magazine his opinion of the idea that a subgroup of "influentials" is largely responsible for trend-setting: "It sort of sounds cool, but it's wonderfully persuasive only for as long as you don't think about it." Later in the article, Watts concludes: "If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can."

Are these views of influence hopelessly at odds? Perhaps not. As I explore that, I'll move to the top half of the four fundamentals of networks.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Four fundamentals of networks

Claire Reinelt and I just contributed a chapter, "Social Networks," to appear in Political and Civic Leadership, edited by Richard Couto and produced by Sage Publications.

Political and Civic Leadership provides a comprehensive undergraduate-level overview of the field of leadership and includes 100 chapters in two volumes. We are happy to be included in an all-star cast of contributors (academics and practitioners of leadership); and we are also happy to be done!

Richard has structured the book as a reference, with each chapter standing on its own, so that readers can flip to a topic of interest (e.g., "decisions," "ethics," "globalization," "philanthropy") without having to read the preceding 500 pages. Nevertheless, there is an overarching structure to the 100 chapters that is not alphabetical. They are divided into these 11 thematic sections:
  1. Introduction To Politics And Civic Leadership
  2. Philosophy And Theories Of Political And Civic Leadership
  3. Purposes Of Political And Civic Leadership
  4. The Failure Of Politics
  5. The Processes Of Political And Civic Leadership
  6. The Institutions Of Political And Civic Leadership
  7. The Contexts Of Public Leadership
  8. The Psychology Of Public Leadership
  9. The Tasks And Tools Of Political And Civic Leadership
  10. The Competencies Of Public Leadership
  11. Depictions Of Public Leadership
Our chapter will appear in Section 9: "The Tasks and Tools of Political and Civic Leadership."

The writing process helped us to deepen the foundations of our framework of four kinds of leadership networks. We considered three different perspectives, each of which describes a different set of four fundamentals of networks:

Kilduff and Tsai describe four orienting concepts of network thinking:
  • Embeddedness: How are organizations and behavior influenced by social relations?
  • Social Capital: What is the value of a person's connections to others?
  • Centrality: What is the influence of a person according to his position?
  • Structural Holes: Where are there gaps between distinct social groups?
Borgatti and Foster describe four primary aspects of the network paradigm, based on the following two questions: First, Do we care more about improving performance internally, or expanding impact externally? Second, Do we care more about the structural position of individuals, or the flow of communication? These priorities give us four categories:
  • Social access to resources: Focused on communication flow and internal performance
  • Structural capital: Focused on network position and internal performance
  • Environmental shaping: Focused on network position and external impact
  • Contagion: Focused on communication flow and external impact
In our work, we have encountered four main types of leadership networks:
  • Peer leadership networks: Focused on building trust among leaders
  • Organizational leadership networks: Focused on leveraging network position
  • Field-policy leadership networks: Focused on shaping the environment
  • Collective leadership networks: Focused on unleashing innovation
Each of the above "four fundamentals of networks" is a list that stands on its own. In the process of writing our chapter for Sage, we synthesized them all into this chart:

What does all that mean? Mostly these two things: (1) more blogging from me soon, with case studies from each of the quadrants above, and (2) pondering why the above four quadrants do not correspond to my beloved "holy trinity of network power," nor to the esteemed standard text SNA: Methods and Applications by Wasserman and Faust.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.