Leadership + networks = craftsmanship

Steffie Verstappen
November 29th, 2010
Article by: Steffie Verstappen
Leadership + networks = craftsmanship

TAKE A STAND | There is a big difference between management and leadership, although I would prefer to qualify both as positions on a continuum. Management is about maintenance and leadership about making a difference—those are two different formulas. Both are needed for healthy growth.


On the one hand, there is authoritative leadership that has been traditionally based on either position (being a manager, general, minister) or on exclusive access to knowledge. Information and position were the key elements of successful leadership. With the rise of the network society, however, a position up in the hierarchy has become increasingly less valuable because the network simply surpasses you. Connectedness is now far more important than static positions. Information starts to flow freely, thereby carrying power towards the edges of the network or organization. As a consequence, charisma has become the new buzzword: the focus has turned more and more towards “natural born” leaders, because they naturally function as hubs in the network, drawing attention and brokering the tasks at hand.


But networks have become networks of networks and thus more and more complex by nature. Our industrial, almost serial and machine-like thinking does not fit the approach needed to solve the intensely complex matters at hand—the so-called wicked problems where there are just too many actors involved and all sorts of scales and feedback loops exist.


This new reality demands a whole new approach that is more parallel, more lateral, and more multi-disciplinary. To make a difference in a network-of-networks environment demands a whole set of specific skills. Here, leadership equals craftsmanship. It is important to make those skills explicit and to train yourself and your team by designing situations that can function as meaningful learning situations to ultimately get the job done. An old Buddhist saying possibly best pinpoints this type of creative leadership: "There is no road towards creativity, creativity is the way."