The new work environment and the addition of the network leadership role do not require leaders to suddenly develop previously unknown skill sets. The capabilities needed for effective network leadership are included in many existing leadership competency models and are common in comprehensive models, such as our Universal Competency Framework (UCF). However, the introduction of network leadership requires a shift in the relative importance of many core leadership competencies. As a result, many organizations will have to adjust their leader development and performance management efforts to reprioritize key competencies and desired behaviors, and leaders may need to rebuild and rebalance their capabilities and skills to improve their performance.
Effective network leaders operate differently and rely on a set of important competencies not easily substituted or compensated for. To fuel collaboration and knowledge sharing across the organization, network leaders must be effective at indirect leadership as well as traditional direct leadership. They need to be as good, if not better, at influencing how stakeholders work together as they are at using formal authority to drive activity.
Using our UCF, CEB identified core competency components that are particularly important for effective network leadership (some of which are shown in the accompanying table). Some components are obvious and central to the role’s definition—for example, networking, where no amount of skill at planning, directing, or controlling can make up for its importance in creating viable networks. Other elements are important to leadership in a broader sense but are particularly critical to network leadership. For example, leaders who are not disposed to innovating or empowering employees will struggle to energize networks with a sense of common purpose aligned with common goals. Several competencies (such as adapting, accepting new ideas, and testing assumptions) relate to the ability and willingness—and even more important, the desire or mind-set—to introduce change
and tackle new and unfamiliar situations. The core competency components of network leadership represent a limited but critical subset of the capabilities required to be an effective leader.
The new work environment calls for a balance of the behaviors required for each leadership role, with the challenges and responsibilities of a particular position dictating the most effective mix of behaviors. For some leaders, this balance between indirect and direct leadership can be unsettling; it requires increased trust in the capabilities of others, including those they have no formal authority over.
Unfortunately, many organizations and their leaders are not prepared to develop network leadership capabilities. CEB research has found that roughly 7% of leaders are likely to be strong in all three leadership roles: transformational, transactional, and network leadership. This finding helps explain why many leaders struggle; it also suggests that leadership teams and networks should be developed with specific attention given to identifying a mix of members who complement each other’s strengths and compensate for weaknesses.