Today, more than ever, it’s all about who you know. Pace, overwhelming amounts of rapidly changing information and ambiguity require agility and decisiveness from leaders. Effective use of personal networks is critical to a leader’s success.
But those who rely on hierarchical, formal networks to make and execute decisions do so at their peril. Leaders need to understand and know how to influence the informal, emergent networks inside and outside of their organisation.
Many leaders fall into the trap of believing that they have a good network if they can pick up the phone to their peers across the business when they think they need to. This is not nearly enough. The same leaders often make decisions based on their top-down view of the world and disseminate these decisions down through the hierarchy. They are then surprised when execution and change efforts fail and they blame lack of management information when new data unexpectedly emerges. They pride themselves on being non-political, but they don’t know how to navigate the web of networks to deliver their objectives.
At the other end of the spectrum are those leaders who do recognise the need to establish connections down, across and outside the organisation. They spend time talking directly to a vast array of people, gathering information, getting their buy-in. But they too, may overestimate the effectiveness of their networking. They think they are creating alignment to their decisions, but find they are paralysed – both by the amount of time taken and how to make sense of the conflicting views.
As in many aspects of leadership, it is a question of balancing contrasting approaches. Astute leaders know that they need to have connections both within the formal hierarchy and with key influencers in informal, evolving networks. The difference here is that these leaders know who to talk to in order to gain access to a wider range of networks and support when it comes to execution. They invest time in the right connections, listen closely and get things done.
We have helped leaders manage their networks successfully in a number of ways. Understanding their interpersonal style and that of the influencers in their web of connections is often the first step. We give them concrete tools to understand and build the strength of their strategic, operational and personal networks. A core element of our change programmes focuses on how to gather momentum through the emergent networks at all levels of the organisation.