The connected leader

HBR: How Poor Leaders Become Good Leaders

  • They improved their communication effectiveness.
  • They made an effort to share their knowledge and expertise more widely. 
  • They developed a broader perspective.
  • They began to encourage cooperation rather than competition.

These four skills, of the nine identified by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, are some of the core skills for connected leaders. Leadership, like culture, is an emergent property of people working together. For example, trust only emerges if knowledge is shared and diverse points of view are accepted. As networked, distributed workplaces become the norm, trust will emerge from environments that are open, transparent and diverse. As a result of improved trust, leadership will be seen for what it is; an emergent property of a network in balance and not some special property available to only the select few. This is connected leadership, or leadership that understands networks.

trust emerges from effective networks

In complex environments, weak hierarchies and strong networks are the best organizing principle. While many organizations have strong networks, they are too often coupled with strong central control. Letting go of control is what connected leadership is all about.

Here is how a connected workplace should function. It flips the traditional management pyramid.

leadership in connected workplace

Networked contributors (whether they are full-time, part-time, or contractors) do the bulk of the knowledge work at the edges of the organization. The narration of work  and PKM are becoming critical skills, as work teams ebb and flow according to need, but the network must remain connected and resilient. A key function of connected leaders is to listen to and analyze what is happening. From this bird’s-eye view, those in leadership roles can help set the work context according to the changing conditions and  work on building consensus.

The connected workplace requires collaboration as well as cooperation. Both collaborative behaviours (working together for a common goal) and cooperative behaviours (sharing freely without any quid pro quo) are needed, but most organizations focus their efforts on shorter term collaboration. However, networks really thrive on cooperation, where people share without any direct benefit. Practising and promoting cooperation is another important leadership skill in the connected workplace.

Connected leaders know that people naturally like to be helpful and get recognition for their work. But humans need more than extrinsic compensation, as our behaviour on Wikipedia and online social networks proves. For the most part, people like to help others. Cooperation makes for more resilient knowledge networks. Better networks are better for business.

Solving problems is what most knowledge workers are hired to do. But complex problems usually cannot be solved alone. They require the sharing of tacit knowledge, which is knowledge that cannot easily be put into a manual or procedural guide. Research shows that tacit knowledge flows best in trusted networks. Trust promotes individual autonomy and this becomes a foundation for more open social learning. Without trust, few are willing to share their knowledge. An effective knowledge network also cultivates the diversity and autonomy of each worker. Connected leaders know how to foster deeper connections which can be developed through meaningful conversations. They understand the importance of tacit knowledge in solving complex problems.

The power of social networks, like electricity, will inevitably change almost every business model. Those who emerge as leaders need to understand the new connected workplace. Working smarter in this workplace starts by organizing to embrace networks, manage complexity, and build trust.

The Connected WorkerYou cannot train people to be social; you can only show them what it’s like to be social.


3 Responses to “The connected leader”

  1. Duncan Lawie (@lawiedc)

    How can “diverse points of view [be] accepted”when we need to choose to do one thing right now, out of the many options available?

    • Harold Jarche

      Do we really need to do only one thing right now? Should we commit all our resources to that one thing? Can we do more than one thing and then reinforce those that succeed?

      Sometimes it’s the questions we ask that are more important than the answers we give.


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