Leaders achieve success—for themselves and their organizations—not only because of their own abilities, knowledge, and skills but also through their relationships with others.
The networks leaders build affect how they share and receive new ideas. They provide opportunities—and place constraints on their actions. Networks allow leaders to locate resources and information outside their routine interactions. Connections can give leaders an edge.
Not having the right networks can also derail a manager’s path to success.
Our research has identified problems that cause leaders to derail: plateau prematurely in their career or be demoted or fired. The top derailment factors are: difficulty building and leading teams, troubled interpersonal relationships, failing to adapt to and leading change, missing business objectives, and having too narrow of a functional orientation. Leaders’ networks are at the core of many of these problems.
Networks are also important for achieving organizational goals, including global and cross-functional integration and collaboration. Formal channels are often insufficient mechanisms for coordination and cooperation. Personal connections are needed to build coalitions, influence others, and reconcile goals that have business units working across purposes.
Networks are at the heart of social capital—what leaders can do because of and through their relationships with others. Individuals improve their social capital when they can see and understand the connections between themselves and others within and beyond their workplace. With an accurate network perspective, leaders can strategically invest in their personal networks and build the social capital that is needed at each stage of their career.
Unfortunately, building social capital is not given much attention as part of the leadership development equation.
Often, managers are given generic advice about the importance of networking and vague steps about how to do it—without providing a strategic understanding of networks, why they matter, and how they can be established and maintained over time. Plus, since most network-building advice is not tailored to organizational level, managers often receive information that may not fit their current career challenges—and may even undermine their effectiveness.
Instead, development programs and initiatives must help leaders understand, foster, and leverage their relationships with others. Further, we see that this training must to be tailored to the unique challenges of the leader’s organizational level.