In healthcare most leaders of networks have come from a long tradition of hierarchical organisations, with the associated leadership style. Networks are very different forms and require a more facilitative and enabling approach to link and connect members in service to the network’s shared purpose. They are dynamic and creative places with multiple peer based relationships.
Rather than communicating on a ‘need to know’ basis, in networks communication is open, rather than relationship being positional, in networks relationships are reciprocal (give and take). Networks leaders are therefore at the core of the network rather than at the top. Power is distributed and the network leader’s role is to convene conversations, enable relationships, support the flow of information, and facilitate shared purpose, learning and action. In this democratic environment network leaders focus relentlessly on purpose and impact. They need to develop the processes for demonstrating value, for engagement and participation, and for governance.
Network leaders work relationally without resorting to hierarchy, facilitating the network’s development.
Network leaders can use the diagnostic tools provided here to ‘test the temperature’ of the network and use the intelligence gathered to facilitate conversations between members and agree on collective action. A critical role of network leaders is to connect members to each other and to hold up a mirror for members to be able to review their effectiveness and to take steps to secure impact.
At any one point there will be network members leading aspects of the network’s work for a limited time period ( as long as they are needed by the network). Leadership of the whole network requires different skills in the start up where the focus is on shared purpose and building early relationships, to the ongoing leadership for securing communications, and ongoing relationships.
The qualities of leadership required for this new era of Leadership are described in the following article on Leading in a complex world.