Leadership

Do You Have a Network Mindset?

By / Nov 26, 2012 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

At its best, LinkedIn’s Board Connect tool can rewire how associations think about leadership.

In September, LinkedIn launched a genuine innovation. That is, if we’re willing to recognize it as one.

What capabilities and levels of experience does your network favor? Why does your network shade that way?

You may have heard about LinkedIn’s Board Connect, which helps nonprofits identify  potential board leaders by leveraging the organization’s current network of executives and board members. It’s a genius idea: Board succession is a common headache, and LinkedIn trumps every other social media platform when it comes to strengthening your weak ties, leveraging a broad database of professionals who are sortable by experience and expertise. It’s a smart way to solve a genuine problem. I have a friend who often wonders out loud on Twitter what LinkedIn is good for. It’s good for this.

I don’t want to oversell its virtues, though. I have haven’t tried it myself, but even if Board Connect is easy to use, sleek, and resource-rich—the iPhone of governance succession facilitation applications—it wouldn’t in itself solve the problem associations have with identifying leadership talent. As Beth Kanter puts it in a recent essay at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “While online networks can actually make your organization’s journey through the board development process more efficient, your organization needs to bring a network mindset to a board search that goes beyond the traditional recruitment process.”

What’s a network mindset? As Kanter describes it, it means more than just using Board Connect to trawl data for skill sets that can plug holes in your board. It also means taking a broad look at the network you currently have and studying it for patterns. What capabilities and levels of experience does your network favor? Why does your network shade that way? What patterns surprise you? As Kanter points out, many nonprofit leadership networks tend to congregate in particular clusters, and she suggests that the mapping process can help you build a network that’s broader, rounder, and more redundant. (She uses a couple of maps to visualize this. A strong network, as she puts it, “looks like a virus.”)

Every association will have to decide for itself what a well-rounded network of future leaders look like. What’s admirable about the Board Connect concept is that is makes it easy to answer that question when many organizations haven’t even thought the question is worth asking. LinkedIn’s innovation isn’t the tool itself. The innovation is that it helps leaders reflexively think more broadly about the qualifications for leadership.

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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