Building Networks to Support Change Leadership

Building Networks to Support Change Leadership

Years ago, I coached a new manager who did the worst thing possible. In his insecurity about his new role and desire to succeed, he forbade his direct reports from having any conversations with others in the organization without him in the room.

It was a disaster. The direct reports felt micromanaged and untrusted. They told others that their new boss was a controlling, egotistical jerk. They certainly weren’t going to follow him anywhere.

This new leader did, by the way, see the error of his decision and improve his behavior. However, he started on the wrong foot by failing at one of the central jobs of the leader: building trust.

People need to trust their leaders in order to implement change. In their excellent article, “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” Ibarra and Hunter describe three ways to think about networks. These are the same three ways that support successful change leadership:

  1. Strategically. Strategic networks help leaders scan the environment both within and outside their organizations in order to identify trends that could affect the group. These connections help identify performance gaps—how the group is missing the mark—and opportunity gaps—how the group could delight customers in new and interesting ways.
  2. Operationally. Operational networks help leaders close performance and opportunity gaps.  Dr. Linda Hill of Harvard Business School spoke about operational networks this morning at an HR Leadership Forum meeting. She said that operational network connections require great trust because people use them when things aren’t working: when a process is broken, a goal stubbornly resists achievement, or product production is consistently under quota.
  3. Personally. When leaders need feedback, mentoring, and advice about how to proceed in their careers and manage themselves, they reach out to their personal networks. These networks can require deep trust because of the vulnerability people often experience during these conversations. For example, when I suspected that I needed to change my style when working with a customer years ago, I talked to a peer who cared deeply about my success and would tell me the truth both honestly and compassionately.

All three of these networks are needed to lead change successfully. Strategic networks help leaders understand and anticipate changes in the environment and their organization. Operational networks help leaders engage and act in order to improve performance and/or seize opportunity. Personal networks help leaders adapt their own style to what’s needed by the organization.

How to do all this? That’s a topic for a future post.

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