When I talk with leaders and managers about whether the relationships that they have are important for their job, they often look at me as if I asked whether air to breathe is important for human beings. But when I ask them about social networks, usually one of two things happen. Either they think that I'm asking them about the social media strategy that their organization has, or they think that I'm asking about whether they use Facebook or LinkedIn. That's a common preconception nowadays, is that when you hear social networks, you think immediately of social networking tools, like LinkedIn and Facebook. Those can be very useful to manage your network, to visualize your network, but when we talk about social networks here, we really want to focus on the set of real world relationships that you have, and for the purpose of this discussion here we really focus on the professional relationships that you have. Those really are as important to a leader as air is to breath to human beings, but you have to be a little bit more mindful of them. You want to recognize, for example, that you really have the opportunity to systematically and deliberately create sets of relationships with your followers, with your peers, with the subordinates, and with stakeholders. You also wanna be aware that you have an opportunity to create and help shape relationships among your followers as well, and you want to be aware that you and your followers are actually embedded, to some degree, constrained, if you will, by the sets of relationships, by those networks that you're a part of. Those three things, creating your networks, helping create networks amongst your followers, and managing the embeddedness, are things that leaders want to have on their radar and that they wanna manage actively. One reason to be mindful about managing your social networks, is that we all rely on inputs from others. That's why we rely on relationships. The sets of professional relations that we have are a form of capital that we use, and that capital is different from financial capital, the money that you have in your pocket, or intellectual capital, the brain power that you have between your ears. It's a form of social capital and when I call these sets of relationship social capital, I don't mean that in a mustache twirling, hand rubbing evil sort of way, it's just being honest, as leaders we all depend on the input from others, and that means that rely on those relationships to others, for them to actually make those inputs. That's why social networks and professional networks are so important for nonprofit leaders. Because they have to tap into the resources of others. That's why it's so important for entrepreneurs as well. Now, the first step to being mindful about your professional network is actually to have a better understanding of what networks are like, what networks are made of. Those are the three most important elements that you want to focus on. Networks are composed of nodes: the people that are in your network, and you want to think about what are these nodes like? Are all your contacts the same? Do they have the same sort of knowledge, the same sort of access to resources? Or, are they diverse? Which helps you to tackle different problems, because you can get input from people with different views, different resources that they can bring to the table; so that’s nodes. Then, second element in networks that you want to understand are the ties: the kind of relations that you have. We can think both in terms of the content of a tie, so what is the relationship like that you have to someone? Is this about communicating about work? Is this about getting advice for your career? Is this friendship? What is the tie really like, what is the relationship really about? We can also think about what is the quality of that relationship? How strong is it? Is it a strong tie because you are interacting regularly, or because you are sharing a lot of privileged information? Is it a relationship that is reciprocal? You are giving as much to the other person as you're getting back. Those are things that we can think about when we think about ties. There are nodes, ties, and the last element is, what is the structure of the network overall? And that is important both for you to think about, where are you positioned in the overall network of relationships, but also to think about where are the people that you are connected to positioned? Are you connected to people that are very central, that have a lot of other connections, that might be brokers? That means that they can connect you to areas of the network that otherwise you wouldn't be able to connect to. Those are three things you want to be aware of. There's two general areas of research that can help you to be more mindful and to more actively manage your network. One really focuses on the consequences that networks have, both for you as a leader, and for the organization that you work in. And researchers basically have looked at that kind of configurations of networks, what kind of different configurations, have different impacts on things, for example, like knowledge sharing and information exchange. We can think about those three aspects of the network: the node, the ties and the overall network structure, and the effects and consequences that they have. If you want knowledge sharing and information exchange, is it helpful, for example, to have nodes that are very similar or that are very diverse? Do you want people that speak the same kind of language so that's easier for them to understand each other? Or do you want people that are actually very different, that have completely different knowledge sets? We can think about the nature of the tie, the strength of the relationship. What does it do if people have higher or lower trust with one another, whether it's a weaker or stronger relationship? We can intuit that having a strong relationship with someone might be facilitating knowledge and information exchange. That even sensitive information might be more easily traveling through those high trust ties as well. We can think about the overall network structure as well. What does it mean for knowledge and information exchange if we have a really tightly, densely interconnected network where everybody knows everybody versus a network that is very open? Where you tap into brokers that connect you to parts of the network that are otherwise not well connected. So all those considerations have been taken to understand the consequence of different network configurations. The second area of research that is really helpful really focuses on the antecedents of networks. The question here is why do different leaders have different kinds of networks? What explains these differences? We can again think about these three aspects, the nodes, the relationships, the ties, and the overall network structure. We can think about what is it about a leader, the node, that explains why they have a big or small network, a network that's closed, or a network that's very open? We can think about the relationship characteristics, the quality of the tie. Is it something that they do about managing those relationships and the quality of those relationships that explains why they grow the network in a particular way? And we can think about the overall structure, because chances are if you started out with a big network already as a professional, as a leader, this might be easier to develop your network even further. But there might also be some path dependencies that might set in, we'll talk about that a little later. Now when we think about these actions that leaders take to grow the network, as part of the antecedents that I explained what network they have, we want to be mindful of intercultural differences. There are different norms for how to relate and how to build relationships with others. In different cultural contexts, different kinds of behaviors make people more attractive or relatable. Those differences are important for intercultural leaders to adapt their networking behavior as they transcend different cultural contexts. Now if we think about these two elements: the consequences of networks, the research that we have for that, and the antecedents for networks, that really turns this soft and fluffy area of relational skills into something that can actually be done very systematically so ot can almost be considered a hard skill because you're really analyzing both the antecedents and the consequences and can act accordingly. So as a leader, managing personal networks, doesn't mean just managing your own network, it also means that you want to facilitate the relationships amongst others, amongst your followers. This is not micromanaging It's really focusing on creating an environment that allows people to be effective, to get all the social support and the social resources that they need to be an effective member of the team, and really make a good contribution. There are a lot of companies nowadays that do these systematic network analyses to understand what the informal work networks are in the workplace, in their organization, to identify who are informally in that network important players that are really central to, for example, communication and knowledge sharing and so on and so forth, but also to identify gaps and to see where the weaknesses in the network are. As the leader, this is something that you want to focus on: How can you facilitate connections that might not naturally be happening, but that you think is really important for your organization? Now, as you do this, the big question is, of course, what really creates value? What kind of network creates value for the organization? There are two diametrically opposed views on what actually creates value in networks. And one comes from James Samuel Coleman, and he argued that what you want to create value in a network are dense interconnections. Everybody should be connected to everybody else, almost. And the benefit of that would be that people gain a lot of knowledge about each other, so they learn to trust each others as they gain more knowledge. It's easier for them to coordinate their behavior to support each other, and that ultimately is what creates value. He carried that idea really far, and basically argued that that's where prosperous societies come from, from having this densely knitted, interconnected social fabric. Now if leaders were to follow that, they would encourage, basically, people to really get to know each other with the people that they interact with a lot, as best as they can to really create these densely, interconnected clusters, that you have in the network, that's where the value comes from. Now, the complete opposite view comes from Ron Burt, and he argues that you don't want that densely interconnected network because they actually create a lot of constraint on how we behave and how we think, because there's maybe peer pressure or group pressure for conformity. He argued that the value in a network really comes from open structures. Member's in a group are connected to others that nobody else basically knows. They're bridging what he calls structural holes, so basically parts of the social fabric in a organization where there are no other connections. Bridging those holes, he said can bring in a lot of fresh ideas, fresh thinking, that leads to serendipity and inspiration, and creativity and innovation, and all that, and that's where innovation comes from. If you were to follow that as a leader, you would not encourage people to focus on the people around them, you would ask them them go out, make new connections. That's kind of the big question: How do we balance the two? And as very often in research it's kind of a combination of the two that ultimately gets you the best results. Now leaders often have to rebalance the natural tendencies of the people of the groups they work with. Some groups have a natural tendency to actually reach out and make these bridging ties across structural holds. If you're managing a sales team, for example, and people are constantly on the road, they're working with clients, they're making new connections. Well, you automatically have kind of an inherent drive towards creating these open networks and bridging structural holes. But maybe you need to encourage them also to come together occasionally and actually strengthen the relationships amongst the individual members of the sales team. So you're rebalancing more towards density and more towards creation of the network. If you have a group that constantly works together, it's to the point that they are ignoring everything that's around them, maybe you want to rebalance the other way, and encourage people to actually look beyond their departmental boundaries and reach out to other areas of the organization, or even beyond the organization boundaries. So as a leader your role of facilitating networks often is of this kind of rebalancing function. Okay, so you can systematically manage your own networks and you can facilitate the networks amongst your followers with all the rebalancing that we talked about. The third thing to recognize, and that's often the part that's little bit harder to deal with for leaders, is that not only are you shaping your networks, but your networks are also shaping you. That's what we call embeddedness. You are embedded in your networks and your behavior and your thoughts, your thinking, is embedded in the particular network structures that you're part of. And this is something that runs a little counter to what, in Western thought, we like to think of what determines individual behavior. We like to think of individuals as these free agents that are not constrained by society around them, that make daring decisions, that take risks, that go out there and make things happen, that are not held back, by the groups around them. Especially when we think about leaders we have that very strongly in our heads. Now what the research shows is that for business leaders for very important strategic, for very important economic decisions, are very strongly influenced by these social networks that they're a part of. That really has taken us to reconsider this notion of the free agent. This atomized view of behavior in organizations that we're all just making rational decisions, if you will, and has brought us a lot closer, if you think about it, to what is been common knowledge in a lot of eastern cultures. That the individual is embedded in a group, and group norms and group loyalties dictate, to a large degree, the behavior. That reconciles us maybe a little bit with those considerations, but it also enables us, when we're aware of it, to think about what we can do to avoid, let's say, the negative sides of that embeddedness and of those constraints. What can we do for example, in our own networks to reach out to contacts that might free us, to some degree, from a tunnel vision that we might have developed from being strongly embedded? Or help others make connections that allow them to act more freely and in a less constrained fashion. All right, so in order to enable you to manage your own networks, to facilitate networks and relationships amongst your followers, and to deal with issues around embeddedness, I want to take three steps to get a little bit more in depth into the dynamics of networks. The first step is we’ll talk a little bit more about the consequences of different network structures on information and knowledge exchange in organizations, job mobility, and also about distribution of power. That gives you some cues of what structures you might want to aim for depending on what kind of outcomes you want for your organization, what kind of goals you have for the people that you're leading. The second step that we're taking is to focus on the mechanisms that drive the evolution of networks. That inform how people make choices about who to connect to, and why they make those choices. Again that gives you some clues of what you might do to influence those choices if you want to rebalance the network evolution. Lastly then, we'll focus on the intercultural differences, so different ways and how people approach networking. Different norms, if you like, for professional networks and different institutional, different cultural contexts. So all these three then, we have a good starting point to think about. Systematically managing your networks and also to get you excited about the wonderful world of networks and dynamics of networks.