Networked Leaders

CAMBRIDGE – In an environment of mobile phones, computers, and Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn, it is commonplace to say that we live in a networked world. But different networks provide new forms of power, and require different styles of leadership. Barack Obama understands this; indeed, it helped to secure his victory.

While Obama was hardly the first American politician to use the Internet, he was the most effective in using new technology to raise money from small donors, energize and coordinate volunteers, and convey his messages directly to voters. Now he is faced with the question of how to use networks to govern.

Networks come in many shapes and sizes. Some create strong ties, while others produce weak ties. Think of the difference between friendships and acquaintances. Valuable information is more likely to be shared by friends than among acquaintances. But weak ties extend further and provide more novel, innovative, and non-redundant information.

Networks based on strong ties produce the power of loyalty, but may become cliques that re-circulate conventional wisdom. They may succumb to “group think.” That is why the diversity in Obama’s cabinet choices is important. He has been compared to Abraham Lincoln in his willingness to include rivals as well as friends on his team.