Network Leadership

Network Leadership

Network leadership (or what I call network weaving) looks like a rhizome. If you have a patch of bamboo in your yard, you know how hard it is to get rid of. If you chop down a stalk, in a few days a new shoot sprouts up to fill the space. This is because underneath the bamboo forest is a mat of interconnected pathways, called rhizomes, that connect all the stalks and move resources around to places where they are needed.

Rhizomes are a great metaphor for network leadership:  network leadership is about working together to make sure that people in the network are connected in way that encourages flows of resources, information and support to every part of the network.

Network leadership is about noticing people or groups who are not being able to access resources and who have been marginalized by the culture of hierarchies, and encouraging them to initiate collaborative action.

Network leadership engages people to co-design new structures (such as Innovation Funds) that get financial resources flowing to those projects.

And network leadership creates space for learning and peer support through communities of practice, so that everyone is continually building skills and insights and breakthroughs constantly emerge from the learning processes.

The number one task of network leaders is to help others become network leaders.

Vivian Andersen (with yellow tee, below), the founder of Every Black Girl in Columbia, South Carolina, is one of my favorite examples of network leadership in action. In June I attended a gathering where she brought along six young teen girls and boys. These young people joined the small group discussions, sharing their thoughts with quiet confidence and brilliance because Vivian had made nurturing their growth and leadership a priority and showed them how to support each other.

The interesting fact about ginger (another rhizome), shown below, is that every knob of ginger contains all the nutrients to sprout another branch of ginger. If you broke off a piece of ginger and planted it, many new buds would pop out. Network leadership is like ginger: every network leader spends much of their time providing mentoring, listening, and support until everyone in the network sees themselves as responsible for creating a healthy, effective network. Leadership development in networks is all about increasing the flows of leadership capacity.

Four key roles that network weavers play to open these flows are:

  1. Connecting
  2. Coordinating and coaching collaborative projects
  3. Facilitating, convening and aligning
  4. Co-creating support structures

One of the best ways to help people understand these roles and to see that they are already network leaders is by taking the Network Weaver Checklist.

This checklist is great to give to people in your network at a face-to-face gathering. Have them spend 5 or so minutes taking the survey. Then have a chart paper (or 2-3 if the group is large). Using a marker, make a line down the center of the the paper and then one horizontally across from side to side. Mark the upper left quadrant with Connector, the upper right quadrant with Facilitator, the lower left quadrant with Project Coordinator, and the final quadrant with Guardian.  Then have people put a red dot in the quadrant where they got the most 4s and 5s, and a green dot in the quadrant they would like to learn more about or do more.

Have them pair up with another person and talk about what they learned about themselves as a network weaver and what they would like to learn.

Then have the whole group notice the quadrant(s) where it is strong, and the quadrant(s) where there aren’t many people currently working. Notice which quadrant has lots of green dots – the network may want to do some explicit organizing of training in this are.

To download the Network Weaver Checklist: CLICK HERE

For more free resources and to sign up for the weekly Network Weaver enewsletter, visit

We encourage you to comment on this post so we can hear about your thoughts and experience.

4 thoughts on “Network Leadership

  1. “The number one task of network leaders is to help others become network leaders” is important, desirable, but, IMHO, not ‘number one.’

    Sidebar: describing network value as an ordinal number is not recommended. It’s not a good way to understand living systems. Living systems are remarkable for the things they do NOT do, i.e., radical efficiency. Thus, everything is ‘most important.’

    N.B. Cartesian reductionism and assigning ordinal number importance simply cannot describe/define network value or living systems.

    The core function of network leadership is easing structural holes through brokering. Structural holes are often a required and beneficial legacy of ‘hierarchies, proxies, and control,’ e.g., white space, boundaries, cross-functionalism, edges, etc. They advance the knowledge-based view (KBV) of orgs. They are often derisively called ‘silos.’ They are essential to KBV and effectiveness, but require network leadership.

    Network leaders and leadership serve the essential role of identifying, bridging, brokering, and mastering the organizational gestalt to achieve desired outcomes. In short, network leaders transform structural holes to structural wholes.

  2. “The number one task of network leaders is to help others become network leaders.” – exactly! And the critical skill is about working with emergence in agile way (delivering value early and often). Giles Hutchins, in video linked below:

    1) wicked systemic interconnected problems
    2) leadership that holds emergence and empowers others
    3) shift from organisation-as-machine to organisation-as-living system

    “Living, emergent, distributed, decentralised, locally attuned teams of people dealing with unceasing transformation without having to align with hierarchies, proxies and control.”

Comments are closed.