Inspiring collaboration is critical for higher growth

It may not be enough for business leaders to develop smart strategies and inspire employees to attempt to carry them out.

“Network leadership” – the ability to help employees collaborate across business silos to strengthen productivity and performance – is a quality that’s now essential for leaders to possess or develop, according to a new report by member-based advisory firm CEB.

It’s also a quality that many leaders are lacking. Just 44% of more than 15,000 employees surveyed by CEB said their managers connect them with co-workers to help them with their work.

“Network leadership is going to be critical for organisations to remain competitive in the new work environment,” Conrad Schmidt, a CEB global research officer, said in a news release. “In order for organisations to achieve higher growth, truly differentiate themselves from competitors and maintain an edge, they must set a higher bar for their leaders, requiring them to go beyond setting strategic direction and driving execution.”

Former Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. CEO James Quigley, CPA, said in a recent Journal of Accountancy article that Millennials who are given a task often turn to their network to collaborate in hopes of finding the best solution. Quigley said it is important for leaders to build a networked, collaborative team that still is accountable for delivering on strategy.

Inspiring collaboration also is described as important in a KPMG report on how human resources functions can encourage innovation. According to the report, winning companies recognise the importance of internal and external networks, and emphasise connecting their people to facilitate collaboration.

The CEB report says focusing on three broad activities will help leaders effectively manage networks and network employees. Leaders must help others build and connect to networks; align and direct the network; and energise and enable the network, the CEB report says.

The keys to developing network leaders, according to CEB, include:

  • Encouraging a different approach. Leaders should be trained to show employees how to work more effectively in their networks instead of directing what employees do in their work, CEB says.

  • Developing network leadership competencies. This can be done by building leaders’ agility, exposing them to diverse work experiences, and highlighting the benefits of – and tools for – building networks, according to CEB.

  • Emphasising network leadership in succession plans. The importance of network leaders as corporate assets should be considered in building the leadership team, CEB says.

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.