This morning I was thinking about how a vibrant network leverages a manager’s abilities, and came across recent academic article by Galvin, Balkundi, and Waldman*. What interested me most about the article was their focus on how leaders at all levels of management can even inspire those with whom they have no direct contact.
The best accomplish this through their direct reports. Offices everywhere are replete with gossip, stories, and other forms of ‘water cooler’ talk we generally view as a distraction to getting things done.
But this academic review discusses the possibility that water cooler talk may actually contribute to the positive image of the leader through employee surrogates or evangelical ambassadors. Sometimes, for instance, surrogates promote and defend their managers or even provide illustrative examples and anecdotes about their leadership skills.
Not unlike Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point or Seth Godin's Ideavirus (not affiliate links), Galvin and his colleagues argue that the most influential surrogates have at least one of these three attributes:
- They are well-connected. They can relay information between a leader or manager and a quite distant follower or employee.
- They have prestige. Others seek their advice, mentoring, or friendship.
- They are peripherally connected. They relate well with those at the core of the group and have open channels to those on the outskirts.
Obviously, you may never venture to the outskirts of your directs' network–you cannot be everywhere at once. But you may still need to inspire and motivate those you do not even know. Therein we find the leadership and management dilemma. This article by Galvin, Balkundi, and Waldman seems, however, to suggest a practical solution.
* Galvin, Balkundi, & Waldman (2010). Spreading the word: The role of surrogates in charismatic leadership processes. Academy of Management Review, 35(3), 477-494.
Photo credit: Thorsten Becker