Leaders at Every Turn: The Strength of “Leader Full” Advocacy Networks

If your goal is meaningful social change, the allure of organic, multi-leader movements is undeniable. However, a common misconception persists – that these decentralized networks lack direction and often descend into chaos. At Netcentric Campaigns, based on our 20+ years of experience in building robust networks, we firmly reject this notion. Those who disregard these diverse and dynamic leadership models in favor of a singular leadership structure may be overlooking the true strength of what we call “leader full” networks.

One humorous yet poignant illustration of this concept is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

King Arthur: Please, please, good people, I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

Peasant Woman: No one lives there. 

King Arthur: Then who is your lord?

Peasant Woman: We don’t have a lord.

Dennis: I told you, we’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take turns to be a sort of executive officer for the week…

King Arthur: Yes…

Dennis: …but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting…

King Arthur: Yes I see…

Here, King Arthur encounters a group that lacks a traditional leader. Instead, they employ a rotating leadership system, where decisions are made democratically, a clear nod to the potential and agility of a leaderless — or rather, leader full — network.

While this scenario is exaggerated and played for laughs, it also highlights the unique advantage of a leaderless network: shared leadership.

Such networks, far from being chaotic, provide shared leadership.

By empowering various individuals to bring their diverse perspectives to the table, these networks become more adaptable and responsive to community needs. They also encourage an environment of creative problem-solving and collaboration.

Creating effective leader full networks involves carefully selecting participants and defining the roles within the network, ensuring that leadership is spread widely and inclusively. Drawing from our extensive experience of building and nurturing effective advocacy networks, we’ve identified several key leadership roles that are essential for an effective leader full network to thrive:

  1. Network Principals: Think of them as the network’s “executive producers.” These dedicated individuals, who may be enthusiastic volunteers, members of the nonprofit’s staff, or even the organization’s founders, play a crucial role in involving a greater number of people within the network. They are responsible for defining the network’s guidelines, shaping its identity, and crafting the overall user experience, thereby establishing a solid foundation for the network’s ongoing administration and growth
  2. Network Drivers: These leaders participate in networks to access the necessary resources for implementing change. They view the network as a means to achieve their objectives and expect it to support their efforts. These individuals readily contribute their expertise and knowledge to advance the network’s initiatives and activities.
  3. Network Weavers/Debriefers: They play a vital role in fostering connections among network members, enabling collaboration, and mitigating competition between drivers who may have conflicting visions. They also play a key role in extracting important insights and lessons from the experiences shared by participants through debriefing sessions.
  4. Network Supporters: These individuals actively contribute their resources, voice, and knowledge to support the network’s goals. They are deeply involved in efforts to effect change and serve as valuable assets to other members within the network, offering their expertise and support when needed.
  5. Network Operations Leaders: These leaders are tasked with ensuring the network functions efficiently and effectively. They are responsible for carrying out essential tasks, such as maintaining services, upholding network rules, and handling feedback. Their role involves overseeing the network’s core operations and ensuring compliance with established guidelines and protocols to optimize network performance.

Leadership within these roles is dynamic and can shift to meet evolving network needs. For instance, a supporter might someday lead a campaign or foster connections, while a driver could organize a significant social event. This flexibility in roles and responsibility facilitates a responsive and adaptable network structure.

Acknowledging the unique influence and limitations of each leadership role is crucial. While Network Principals define the network’s foundational aspects, Drivers focus on direction and Operations Leaders on maintenance. Weavers ensure connectivity and conflict resolution, and Supporters enhance the network’s effectiveness through their contributions.

As networks grow and mature, they are more capable of taking on greater responsibilities. However, navigating this growth requires awareness of potential challenges, such as a lack of diversity in leadership, which can stifle creativity, or an imbalance in leadership types, which can lead to confusion.

In summary, dynamic networks are not chaotic; they are teeming with leaders, each playing a critical role in driving change and fostering collaboration. By recognizing and valuing the diverse roles within these networks, we can fully leverage their potential to effect lasting, meaningful impact.

At Netcentric Campaigns, we are committed to helping organizations find the right balance of leadership in their networks, providing the support and guidance necessary for success. Whether you’re looking to build a network or enhance an existing one, we can help. For more information on our network-building services and how they can support your efforts for social change, please get in touch. Let’s harness the power of well-structured networks together.

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