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.

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