2 - A Network Approach to Leadership  pp. 13-38

A Network Approach to Leadership

By Martin Kilduff and David Krackhardt

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Good administrators sometimes fail to understand social structure and fail to anticipate its consequences for organizational survival. This can leave organizations vulnerable to manipulation by skilled political entrepreneurs. In one example, the entire top management team of a manufacturing company learned from a network analysis that the bomb threats, shootings, and vandalism threatening the future of the company were instigated by partisans of a lower-ranking manager, who had systematically recruited family, friends, and neighbors into the company over a thirty-year period. In a district desperate for jobs, these partisans felt loyalty to the informal leader, who had provided them information that allowed them to be first in line for vacancies on Monday morning. The CEO, confronted with an analysis of the deep cleavages existing in the social structure of the organization resulting from the informal patterns of recruiting over decades, had this to say about those who had been hired: “ … they just seemed like waves of turtles coming over the hill; hired as they made it to our door” (Burt, 1992: 1).

This story illustrates the gap at the heart of our understanding of organizational behavior. It illustrates how important it is for managers and would-be leaders to accurately perceive the network relations that connect people, and to actively manage these network relations. This story also illustrates how informal leaders who may lack formal authority can emerge to frustrate organizational functioning through the manipulation of network structures and the exercise of social influence.