Dan Hammond continues his series of four articles about craft of the collaborative leader, looking at an essential component of collaboration - building social capital.
In the first in this series about the collaborative leader we looked at the foundation of collaboration: distributed leadership. In this article we continue to hear from Charlie O'Connor about the lessons that he has learnt about collaboration from Bosnia to the boardroom.
We live in a connected world. Social media are at the extreme end of this, but you do not have to be online to rely on many people to do your job and to have many people relying on you. It is obvious to state that the number and quality of connections are essential in successful collaboration: it is an asset that a leader nurtures called 'social capital'. If our 'financial capital' is what we own and our 'intellectual capital' is what we know, then our 'social capital' is who we know.
In his 2000 book 'Bowling Alone', Robert Putnam describes two key concepts of social capital as networks and reciprocity. "The moment will come when you have to pick up phone and ask for help" says O'Connor. "If you have invested in your social capital you can do that. These are networks where you know the people very well and you may need 200 of these 'complex' relationships. Leaders therefore need to focus on network building."
"The modern workplace places high demands on leaders to connect with each other. Not using the tools that are available can leave the leader at an unnecessary disadvantage."
This isn't a new idea and it's pretty well understood that just connecting with people (exchanging business cards or connecting on Linkedin) is not enough. Engaging them is the crucial next step. The theory of social capital helps us to do this in a very practical way. "The quality of a network is built through reciprocity - giving something useful to the network and receiving useful stuff." says O'Connor. "A collaborative leader is constantly offering something to the network that will be of value - information, knowledge, leads, and when they are at their best, connections to other people." This makes a leader's social capital valuable and attracts others to the network.
A final concept is the 'bridging' and 'bonding' elements of social capital. Bonding connects small groups tightly together and bridging connects the groups with each other. This 'bridging' component is vital in collaboration as it reaches across functional, geographical and structural boundaries to connect the right people for the task. At its most powerful, it connects whole networks to each other.
So why do we spend so little time as leaders nurturing our networks? We meet many senior leaders who are 40+ who avoid social networking and even sneer at it as a Gen Y phenomenon: "you're not one of those people who tweets are you?". This is another symptom of today's leadership not rising to today's challenges. You do not have to tweet about what you are planning to have for dinner - the collaborative leader will ask how these tools can help them to build their social capital. The modern workplace places high demands on leaders to connect with each other. Not using the tools that are available can leave the leader at an unnecessary disadvantage.
Practical things that the collaborative leader can do:
- Be clear about who you will need in your network to achieve your goals
- Find some way to give value to them
- Regularly take time to review your network
So you have a strong network. How do you bring these people with you, bringing all their talents to get things done? This is the subject of the third article of the series.