Nodes, Networks And The Frustration Of Visionless Leadership

“A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without the aim, there is no system.”  -W. Edwards Deming

In any system, networks and nodes serve as the pathways and hubs that determine the vitality and flow of any organization. When this is not functioning effectively or breaks down on any level, the overall strength and well-being of the organization suffers.

All of which expand and flourish or wither and expire at the hands of leadership…

To look at this a little deeper, let’s begin with an idea or reference point of what a node and network are within an organization and how they can serve to build up and expand, as well as close off and diminish the growth and capacity of an organization.

According to Google, a node is a point at which lines or pathways intersect or branch; a central or connecting point. It is also the part of a plant stem from which one or more leaves emerge, often forming a slight swelling or knob.

Google provides this definition of a network as, “an arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines. A group or system of interconnected people or things.

Which for leaders, means that it is not just necessary to understand that both networks and nodes are vital for a strong and high functioning organization, it is in the knowing of how they work both individually and in tandem to increase the capacity and strength of the organization.

And for leaders, it begins with acknowledging the power that a node serves as a positive or negative force within this system.

The node is the hub for the entire organizational system. It can serve as a conduit for feeding the entire network, or as the bottleneck that slows down the flow or overall information and learning pipeline to the network.

Both of which are ultimately determined by the leadership of the organization…

Very often, leaders can work as a reservoir, rather than a river of learning. What comes into the node, does not always flow outward and across the network in any type of effective manner.

And when there is a lack of clarity, communication, and learning flowing from the nodes throughout the network, when it bottlenecks and does not flow freely within the organization, it slows the pace of progress, it slows the pace of learning.

Which eventually builds walls, creates silos, frustration, confusion, and even chaos within the network.

When leaders only exist within the node and struggle to comprehend the entirety and complexity of the network, they often fail to see how their decisions and actions influence and impact the system. When leaders are unable to see beyond the level of the node, they are unable to comprehend how the lack of flow, be that clarity, communication, or learning, then they fail to visualize how they are cutting off the rest of the network from the vital information necessary to create and feed an organization in vital and healthy ways.

And unfortunately, as the node grows and expands at the cost of the network, the network becomes like dying vines, withering throughout as well as from the outside in.

Whereas, in strong and healthy organizations, leaders not only create a strong vision that flows through the nodes and networks as a beacon of focus for the organization, but recognize that the nodes serve as a hub to continually and positively feed the network through ongoing communication and learning. The node serves as a constant source of support.

The node becomes a vital source of nutrients for the network. Pushing out, rather than pulling in. A radiant hub and flow of learning, information, and communication, constantly feeding the network, expanding its size, capacity, and capabilities. Eventually creating more nodes, as well as empowering and expanding the entirety of the network.

Eventually, leading to strong systems and even stronger organizations.

At all levels…


3 thoughts on “Nodes, Networks And The Frustration Of Visionless Leadership

  1. David wrote:

    Very often, leaders can work as a reservoir, rather than a river of learning. What comes into the node, does not always flow outward and across the network in any type of effective manner.


    Here’s the thing, Pal: Nodes aren’t hard to spot in your schools. They are the highly connected teachers who are well respected by their peers. Gayle Moller — author of a ton of great books about teacher leadership — goes as far as to recommend that school leaders keep a chart of the connected individuals in their buildings. Literally map out the relationships between individuals with circles representing people and lines representing connections between people.

    If you did that in my school, you’d be surprised to find that I’m NOT super connected. Because I’m so comfortable pushing and challenging, developing strong relationships is hard for me to do in my own building. If you charted me, there’d be just a few lines coming out of my circle. So choosing me to be your building leader would be a mistake. Ideas would die with me simply because as a node, I’m not highly connected.

    But there are two or three people that I AM connected to that are supernodes. EVERYONE likes them and EVERYONE is connected to them. They are the key to driving change in our building, not me. So my role as a leader isn’t to spread ideas to the masses. My role is in supporting the development of the supernodes. If I can bring my knowledge to them, ideas will spread WAY faster than if I try to spread those ideas on my own or than if my principal tries to use me as the disseminator of new practice.

    The way I see it is when ideas are not flowing outward through the nodes in your organization, you’ve identified the wrong nodes to begin with. It’s like intentionally hooking up a hose to the wrong branch of irrigation system in your yard — don’t be surprised when the grass dies.

    Any of this make sense?

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