Network (and other) leadership for change

by Jini Stolk

I was delighted to be asked to do a 5×5 presentation for the recent Ontario Nonprofit Network conference , although summing up the qualities of successful Network Leadership in five minutes and five slides was a bit daunting.

Basically, I said (with many thanks to June Holley’s superb Network Weaver and Liz Rykert’s exceptional workshops on the topic) that:

  • networks – widespread collaborations usually organized to deal with big and complex issues – require not better leadership, but different leadership and leadership skills
  • network leaders encourage and draw out new voices and leaders; need to be flexible; encourage initiative; weave people together and make connections
  • they encourage people to take responsibility; are open and transparent; understand and identify breakthroughs; embrace innovation and constantly share
  • they feel the joy of working to achieve real change, and communicate it to others

All very true, and quite different from standard “business book” definitions of leadership.

But wait. “Nimble, vibrant organizations will need a special kind of leadership, comfortable with uncertainty and excited by unknowns. You’ll be good at what you love to do” we were reminded several years ago by Joanna Mackie in a workshop sponsored by Work in Culture.

She said that changing leadership requires the ability to enable the leadership of others; pull together strategies to engage others in making positive change; focus on what works; make links; prepare to adapt, be flexible; ensure your thinking and intentions are understood; focus on the goal and relationships.

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence makes many similar and important points in this great piece aimed at board, management and volunteer leaders.

I also like Jess Lee, CEO of the fashion website Polyvore, who says that she cleaves to three values in everything she does: delight the user; do a few things well; and make an impact. Great advice for all of us.

Maybe it’s the world that’s changing, not just the type of leadership we now value. I’m all in favour of new values and practices in the arts, nonprofit, and all other sectors as we continue on into the 2,000’s. What we’ve been doing up until now in this world of ours is just…messed up. (Sorry guys, but I’ve just finished reading today’s news!)


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