The study observed a number of leaders going through this transition and discovered that many of them preferred to focus on the task of getting their new job done, without realising that the information and resources gained through three key networks (operational, personal and strategic) had become a fundamental part of their new role.
In fact, failing to do so could result in serious mistakes being made. For example, one accounting manager made a crucial decision based only on a ‘hint' from the company founder that his firm might go public. He decided to reorganise the accounts department to make it better able to withstand outside scrutiny. His failure to tap into a wider operational network meant that he did not realise that there was significant opposition to the move until the board made the decision not to go public.
It's important to build large networks. An over-reliance on the most obvious operational networks including key outsiders such as suppliers and distributors runs the danger that the manager will focus on getting the task done rather than asking the question, what should we be doing?
By building personal networks of kindred spirits from all walks of life (e.g. professional associations, alumni networks, personal interest communities), business managers gain important new perspectives that help them advance in their career. Such networks can provide a safe environment for people to develop their personal skills and make interesting and sometimes useful connections.
Effective leaders have to learn the art of strategic networking in which they leverage their connections to support wider business goals. In fact, the study shows that what differentiates a leader from a manager is 'the ability to figure out where to go and to enlist the people and groups necessary to get there'. The art of strategic networking is to 'marshal' the information, support and resources of one network to achieve results in another.
New leaders take some persuading that this kind of networking is worth so much of their time. But they are more likely to be convinced if they see a role model operating in this way. Once they are convinced, however, they will need to build in a great deal of time to carry out the work well.
Some inexperienced networkers think that all they need to do is get the people lined up, and ring them up when they need something. In fact, it only works if they respond to their networks generously and also help to link people up, whether it is of immediate use or not.
How leaders create and use networks
By Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter
Harvard Business Review, January 2007
Review by Morice Mendoza