Thursday, October 27, 2011

Leadership and the Network Effect

One of interesting properties of information technology is the 'network effect.' As more users join a network, the more valuable the network becomes. A network of one node is useless. Image FaceBook without the internet - it would be a pretty boring place. A network of 2 is better. A network of 10 becomes more interesting, and Facebook with a hundred friends is a lot of fun. Add a growing network to FaceBook and it becomes an interesting place.

In our business culture great leaders are often viewed as solo performers. Such notions are emphasized by commonly held beliefs that "it's lonely at the top." Biographies are written about Steve Jobs and Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch emphasizing the strength of the individual and not the teams of supporting players. Yet none of these leaders became successful by being a pure solo artist. Every one of them worked with a network of supporting players.

Their own networks grew over time as they expanded their influence. I would suggest it is a mutually reinforcing affect. As their network of contacts expanded, their career grew and thrived. As their own star rose, more folks wanted to join their network. Successful leaders use the network effect to their advantage. They thrive on having multiple points of view, multiple sounding boards, and multiple connections.

The network affect is an overlooked but critical aspect of leadership success. As we think about future leaders, let's not fall into the trap of looking for solo players and rugged individualists. Lets keep our eyes open for the network builders. Real leaders get things done through an ever-expanding circle of friends.


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