Network Leadership:  Reframing the Work

By Philip Li

President & CEO  

Editor’s Note: This is the first piece in an occasional series of blog posts focused on the topic of network leadership.

I often draw the parallel of a leadership development program being like boot camp, an apprenticeship, a practicum or exposure. To me, completing the program is not the end, it’s actually the beginning.  

The notion that investment in these talented individuals of time, resources, skills, and relationships and reflection will help them be better equipped to do their work better and bring about change is a powerful one. That personal transformation is a key benefit that a program offers to the individuals, and often the focus. But it’s not the only one. There’s a larger frame that invites, even expects, that they’ll use the gift and privilege of having participated in a leadership program, to work on bringing about change.  

The formal program ends with a graduation ceremony, reception, handshake and a charge to ‘do good things.’ However, the support that was present over the course of the programmatic year doesn’t really extend beyond it. And understandably so because of resource constraints – human, financial, and time. The individuals are now ‘alumni’ – a reference I dislike, because it connotes that your time has passed and now it’s someone else’s turn.

To me, this is the moment – as is the rest of your life. It’s “what happens after.” 

The true expression of the leadership development experience is what you do with what you’ve gained or learned, and how you leverage the ideas, people, and resources into action. I have wondered what might be possible if there were more formal support and structure in place to enhance this work.  

 After almost a year of investigating options – getting ideas and feedback from a dozen nonprofit executive directors on our Advisory Council, going on an extended listening tour talking to and learning from groups that ran leadership programs, and even taking a hand to creating an 2.0 version of a leadership program (whatever that was), the Foundation was introduced to the idea of ‘network leadership’ at a conference. 

 It was an ‘aha’ moment, and subsequent conversations and meetings brought the idea into being. The Sterling Network NYC is the Foundation’s experiment to see what happens when a group of leaders comes together from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, bringing an array of expertise and interests, along with a bias toward action. They have the ability to move or influence capital: human, financial, and social; that allows them to explore, collaborate, experiment, and iterate – in small and large groups – possible solutions and ideas to enhance economic mobility across New York City.  

We’re about one-and-a-half years in on this journey, and excited to see what will unfold and how the group’s efforts might contribute to the life of the city. More information on the Sterling Network NYC and how it operates will be shared in future blog posts, so do stay tuned.

Philip LiComment