Network Leadership Mentoring to promote thriving in organizations

Entering unknown territory

Currently we are all entering into unknown territory, attempting to master the continuous challenges we face today with the behaviors and processes which worked so well for us in the past. 

This endeavor reminds me of the competition between Roald Amundsen of Norway and Robert Scott of Great Britain to be the first person to reach the South Pole.  Part of the reason that Amundsen was successful while Scott was not, was that Amundsen used dogs to help him traverse this hostile terrain.  In contrast, Scott used ponies. They had been extraordinarily useful in past explorations, but ponies were not particularly well suited to the conditions in Antarctica.  Why? Ponies are less tolerant to cold than dogs and their relatively small hooves and large weight cause them to sink into the snow...Admusen and Scott

Today's leaders face a terrain which appears equally as hostile as Antarctica appeared to Scott back in 1911.  If current leaders insist on using the methods of yesteryear, they will surely get stuck in the snow.

Yesterday's leadership development approaches are insufficient to master today's challenges

During the past few decades, coaching has grown to become an invaluable resource for leaders.  It allows them to reflect upon their actions and behaviors as well as to consider how to become even more effective.  As useful as this approach has been, it does not factor in a radically changing environment.  It is often the case that neither the leader nor coach have the necessary understanding of the new terrain into which we are entering - a world of constant disruption and change. 

As an experienced executive coach,  I sense that something more is needed.  Leaders still require the quality reflection time that coaching brings. However, they also need input to understand how to effectively navigate this brave new world.  Leaders require inputs to make sense of a radically changing environment.

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Our Network Leadership Mentoring initiative is our response to this conundrum. It is a practice which combines the wisdom of coaching with the transfer of insight.  The emerging new terrain requires an understanding of networks. The importance of this understanding of the nature of networks in today's business world is explored in more detail below. 

Ensemble Enabler's "Mentors" are fully accredited coaches who have a deep understanding of networks.  This unique combination supports leaders not only to reflect on their prevailing situation, but to also make sense of the rapidly changing business environment around them.  By using additional visual tools such as ONA Maps and Visual Enabling, leaders are mentored not only to understand, but to "see" this new environment as well.

A leader's understanding about how networks work underlines the value of the Network Leadership Mentoring process.

The new terrain is made up of networks

In the past 100 years, science has discovered that networks are the basic pattern of life on earth. All living beings are interconnected with each other through food webs. Our brains are a network of neurons connected to each other through a billion (!) synapses.

What scientists have learned about life, leaders and managers are just beginning to learn about organizations. Networks are at the heart of how organizations are structured and how they function.

Traditionally, leadership has focused primarily on self-leadership and leading teams.  These traditional dimensions of leadership still apply, but today's leaders urgently need to add a new dimension to their portfolio: the leadership of networks.  This dimension of leadership will allow them to successfully navigate the constant disruptions which are characteristic of our time.

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As with any new terrain, there is much to discover and learn.  Ensemble Enabler specializes in guiding leaders through this new territory through the Network Leadership Mentoring process and our unique practices. This support and learning experience enables leaders to feel secure and grounded in this new environment. It promotes a leader's ability to recognize the unexpected possibilities which this new dimension opens up for them  - both personally and for their organization.

A quick glimpse into the nature of this dimension helps to clarify its significance for building leadership capacity today.

Network structures are not all the same

There are a multitude of different network structures - each with its strengths and weaknesses.  Two very simple yet contrasting network structures will be described to illustrate the variety of network types which exist.


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Let us take the following hypothetical situation.  There is a fire raging and there are 100 people willing to help to put out the fire.  A river is approximately 100 meters away from the fire. It is the only source of water in the vicinity.  There are 10 buckets. 

How can the people be effectively organized to put out the fire as quickly as possible?  

The bucket brigade network structure works beautifully in this kind of situation. Instead of filling a bucket with water at the river and then carrying it to the source of the fire, the people position themselves in a straight line and pass the buckets to each other up and down the line. 

While this network structure is excellent for moving materials from A to B, it is not good at disseminating information quickly or accurately.  For a message to get from the fire to the river, information needs to be accurately conveyed across a chain of 100 people.  Anyone having played telephone line as a child knows how awry this process can go.


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A different network structure is needed for the dissemination of information.  This type of network structure was used successfully to disseminate information quickly prior to the advent of the internet.  In this kind of network structure, each person commits to contact at least 2 people and pass on a specific piece of information. 

The telephone tree was designed to spread information to many people simultaneously, thus creating a cascade of information flow.  Unlike in the bucket brigade, this network structure is robust.  Even if one or more people do not pass on the information, the chain of communication is not broken.  In contrast, if only just one person does not pass on the information in a bucket brigade network structure, the entire chain of communication grinds to a halt.

What roles exists in complex networks?

As networks get more complex, individuals are connected to the rest of the network in many different ways.  This creates distinct network roles.  What follows is only a taste of network roles since there are many more types than are listed here.

Here are some roles which are commonly found in networks:

Central Connectors:  People who are at the center of a cluster of connections. 

Boundary Spanners: People who connect different departments, functions, and/or geographic locations.

Energizers: People who inspire and/or motivate others.  Activating energizers is imperative for any change initiative.

Periphery Contributors: People with few connections and are situated at the edges of the network.  Some of these people can be very valuable if they possess needed capabilities. They could be even more valuable if they were better integrated into the network.

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An understanding of network structures and roles is key for network leaders. All of these factors - different network structures and multiple network roles - require the full attention of leaders.  There are many factors to consider when leading these networks.  A leader's success will depend on how well they are acquainted with this new terrain. 

Networks provide an answer to deal with the challenges of a complex world. By their very nature, networks open the doors to unexpected opportunities for those leaders who possess the know-how to harness their power.  Networks are the zone where work gets done and innovation occurs.

Championing Network Leaders

Ensemble Enabler's Network Leaders Mentoring program is designed to accompany network leaders through the unfamiliar territory of a VUCA world.

How is Network Leadership Mentoring set in motion?

Individual sessions with experienced Ensemble Enabler mentors support leaders to recognize the networks and his/her role within this network.  Through a coaching-type of reflection, leaders learn what it means to lead these networks.  These one on one sessions are supported by both ONA analysis (Organizational Network Analysis) and Visual Enabling.  Both of these practices serve to make networks visible, tangible and vivid. The sessions typically last a couple of hours and take place on a regular basis over the course of 3 to 6 months.

It is also recommended that leaders participate in Ensemble Enabler's 6-part virtual  course Foundations of Network Leadership either prior to or during the sessions of their Leadership Mentoring Network process. The focus of these online sessions is to provide a learning experience about network structures, roles and the specific qualities of Network Leadership from the perspective of their impact on an organization and its business. During the course of this Foundations of Network Leadership virtual course,  participants explore the six principles of Network Leadership in depth.

There is strength in numbers. An additional value emerges when several leaders from an organization are concurrently part of the mentoring process. Normally a mentoring process  consists of exclusively individual sessions. However, an additional opportunity arises when the mentored leaders create learning groups with each other in the same company.  As the mentoring process unfolds, these groups of leaders can informally share knowledge and learnings with each other.

By a leader's participation in our Network Leadership Mentoring program and Foundations of Network Leadership virtual course, he/she can be prepared - like Amundsen during his successful bid to be the first to reach the South Pole -  to have the right tools and knowledge to successfully navigate this brave new world of networks.

Enable your organization to use the power of networks to identify sustainable business solutions with speed and effectiveness: Network Leadership - Intentional Collaboration - Network Mindset

Make the shift from a V.U.C.A. to a W.I.S.E. World

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