The importance of a network's leader should not be minimized and the style in which a network is led
can be key to its success. In their report Leadership
and Networks: New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World, the
Leadership Learning Community discusses the limitations of “heroic leadership” (where one leader
holds all decision-making power) in addressing large-scale problems. This traditional model of
leadership is valuable when addressing straightforward, precise problems. Because networks and
coalitions are typically addressing complex, adaptive issues, a bottom-up, collective leadership
style has been found to be more effective.
Leadership is an intentional, inclusive, participatory process of leading that involves
all stakeholders in problem solving and decision making. This type of leadership is often seen in
contexts where no one person is in charge. It is also seen when addressing a problem so large and
complex that no individual person or agency could have enough power or knowledge to address it alone.
It empowers all network members to identify and tap into their unique qualities and circles of
influence to increase the reach and advance the work of the network. Collaborative leading requires
all network and coalition members to be fully engaged in the network, transparent in their efforts,
and act as leaders.
Falling between these examples is the recognized leader who operates from a cooperative vantage. Many
qualities have been attributed to successful leaders (for example bridge building, strong
communication skills, organization, commitment, respect, empathy, and others) and there is some
variance between disciplines. Yet one quality appears on nearly every list of characteristics of
successful leaders: being true to oneself. Successful leaders play to their strengths and don't make
promises they cannot keep. From this fundamental starting point, there are a variety of leadership
styles that can be adopted and have been shown to be successful in networks and coalitions. Some
Leadership identifies leaders who serve as the final decision-makers, but who act more like
facilitators than dictators. They solicit input from all factions of stakeholders, including peers,
subordinates, community members, among others and use that input to inform decisions.
Servant Leadership operates from
a place of meeting members' needs. Service is the driver behind this type of leader's behavior in all
aspects of their life, and this drive inspires them to lead. This is a sharp contrast to the leader
who is driven by the desire to lead.
Leadership taps into the values and sensibilities of network and coalition members, inspiring
them to invest in and move the work forward. Network members will draw satisfaction from their
contribution which feeds their drive to continue their involvement. As involvement and investment
grows, members eventually transform into leaders themselves.
Resources to Learn More
a Plan for Building Leadership
Provides considerations to keep in mind when building leadership and what qualities to look for in prospective
Organization(s): Community Tool Box