Phil Willburn – Networked Leadership

Does your message live on an island?

Thought I would share an excerpt from a recent book chapter I wrote on Leadership and Organizational Networks, in Carol Pearson’s The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership in the 21st Century.

the transformational leader

It’s a great case study how informal networks can stifle vision dissemination.

CASE EXAMPLE · A Great Vision Going Nowhere One. I recently worked with an executive committee struggling to disseminate its vision throughout the organization. A recent climate survey showed the organization was in the top quartile in customer focus, core values, and creating change, but in lowest quartile in vision and strategic direction. The organization’s senior leader recognized that communication was not getting down to the employees but didn’t understand why. She communicated her vision frequently with her executive team, did a few town halls each year, and sent a number of organization- wide emails. She assumed the members of her executive team were using their channels to communicate the vision as well. After speaking to her, I decided to do a quick diagnostic test on the executive committee’s social network.

In my network assessment, I asked two questions: “Who did you receive the organization’s vision from?” and “Who do you then communicate the vision to?” After compiling network analysis results, we could see multiple channels of vision statements and many interpretations of the visions (Figure 3.1).

received from

Seventy percent of the executives reported that they received the vision from the senior leader. However, 60 percent reported they also received the vision from the chief technical officer, 50 percent from the director of strategic initiatives, and 50 percent from the director of operations. With the exception of one executive (a key broker), most of the executives spent their time communicating the vision to each other (Figure 3.2). The senior leader was completely unaware of this communication insularity.

communicate to

Interviews with the senior leader’s team revealed that the leader prided herself on creating a clear and compelling vision, and was put off by people who could not articulate it exactly the way she wanted it articulated. In one instance, a division manager asked the senior leader why the services segment of the business was not included in the vision. She quickly responded that it was included, and then berated the division manager for not appropriately listening to the vision. The fear of being criticized for miscommunicating the vision kept the executive team from getting the vision out to the organization and admitting this to her. The organization was suffering, not from a lack of a clear vision, but from the lack of effective openness, inclusiveness, and dissemination. The senior leader did not have a communication problem, as she originally thought. She had a network insularity problem.

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