Nishith Desai

Leadership is about competency and inspiration. Networked Leadership is not just about leadership, but about leadership in a connected world. Traditional leaders tend to operate in turfs or silos - networked leaders see themselves as a part of the whole. We emphasize too much on the word 'leader', but now, really, it's about being 'networked'.

Leadership is a subject that has fascinated me for over two decades. My heaviest reading, experimentation and contemplation has probably been in this area. How we lead is the fulcrum of every enterprise. It is the pulley that moves strategy to results; sets cogent vision and keeps it dynamic; drives culture, standards and behavior; and is the organization’s primary fount of inspiration and energy. It follows then, that a powerful leadership model is among an organization’s most crucial strategic decisions and enablers.


Why ‘leadership’ is particularly important and vexing today is the totally changed world order in which it must manifest. Renowned sociologist, Max Weber 1 had, over a century ago, predicted the shift from charismatic leadership to the more rational, bureaucratic formats that abound today. Now, a century later, this vertical hierarchy too needs to give way to horizontal ‘webs’ and ‘networks’.

The digital age, social networks, velocity of technology churn along with new-age disciplines like ‘design thinking’ is speedily transforming how people think and do work, how they communicate and engage, even what they aspire for.

We see a surge of individual expansion, expression and independence. At the same time, we see massive and growing co-creation and inter-dependence that stretches well beyond the core organization boundaries to a wider web of stakeholders including clients, channel partners, policy-makers, academicians, industry networks and so on. Network thinking, behavior and working is a reality that is here to stay.


My skin in the game is unequivocal: our firm is taking its biggest leap in organization redesign and leadership transformation yet. We are reinventing to work and lead in a network.

In the last issue of The Weekender 2, I pointed to the limitations of the dominant Partnership model, which pretty much etches the prevalent leadership ethos of law firms. I called for the need to think disruptively and reinvent our organization architecture and approach to leadership.

As I emphasized, present-day hierarchies – even the more cross-dimensional matrices - will fail to propel agility and deal with the rampant complexities of the future. I made a case for the ‘next wave’ organization and leadership framework - of self-managed, flat, dynamic, inter-dependent networks of leaders and teams - with transparent, distributed leadership and clear, albeit evolutionary, roles, goals and processes.

To begin with, we are setting out to unleash the untapped leadership capacity and energy of the organization. We have already established that a major purpose of adopting this form is to broaden and deepen the leadership capability of the organization and pull many more heads and legs into active leadership.

So, what then is the essence of the ‘networked’ leadership’ we seek? While explicating in entirety may need a separate dissertation, let me attempt to share some salient aspects of it.


In a way, the first principle is to accept that ‘everyone is a leader, and everyone is a follower’ in some way 3. So, without necessarily enforcing ‘flatness’, we create distinct spaces and opportunities for more individuals to lead with ‘responsibility, authority and accountability.’

In short, we tackle the constantly emerging new age needs and challenges that need coherent leadership focus. What we also open up and enable is experiential learning on responsible leadership to a much larger, eager talent pool.

Network design implies webs or clusters of interconnected and interdependent roles. Networkers work collaboratively, but with authority to act equipped within frameworks for decision-making.

The network suborns position derived power. So, the most significant shift is from ‘power’ and 'title' centricity to ‘influence’ and ‘reputational’ leadership. Leadership in a network is first and foremost about competence and inspiration. We can drop the ‘ego’ and need for ‘positional power’ based authority, if we are supremely competent in what we do and inspire trust, respect and confidence of others. So, networked leadership rests on the forces of responsibility and capability.

Every individual leader in a network, apart from being competent for the assigned role, needs to be self-driven and accountable. Such a leadership paradigm can only thrive in a climate of continuous learning, professional growth and expertise, besides willingness to trust others and value democratic principles. ‎


Networked leadership fosters self-management and distributed authority but along with the dynamic of collective intelligence. Mico-mangemnt has become extremely difficult and unproductive. Therefore, we offer full scope for ‘self-determination’ of the individual in the assigned space or well-detailed, guided role, but with no need for micro-control from above.

However, while an individual leader is liberated and in charge, we also suggest creation of a socially inter-connected, collaborative enterprise that allows every leader to draw on the intelligence of others and take the best fit decision for the organization.

Thus, a networked leadership is almost like a mesh of inter-dependent, conscience-keeping and transparent advisors and experts. Despite that, it leaves space for specific leaders to take well-informed calls on their assigned areas. Thus, we may avoid the bureaucracies of ‘consensus’ building and still have the best advised and ‘socially inclusive’ decisions taken by meritorious and meritorious leaders.

Consequently, the network dissolves ‘silos’ and compels powerful social and relational leadership. Inter-dependence, communication, inclusion, collectivism, volunteerism and collaboration are crucial features of this system. When ego barriers are broken, positional power excesses are not limited to few, and a ‘natural hierarchy’ 4 based on Visible Expertise 5 takes shape, the institution is a high-energy inspirational platform or a home for its people to belong, engage and find true fulfillment and personal growth. The whole becomes significantly bigger than the sum of its parts.


Ultimately, the shift to networked leadership has an overpowering purpose: ensuring we deliver the highest quality, experience, and trustworthy advice to our ' Clients'.' So, the networked organization has to be well-designed and carefully constructed.

We need to be prepared for considerable behavioral and cultural re-engineering – and aspire to be truly great professionals flourishing purely on merit and a well-spring of inspiration.

Working the networked way does not mean we toss out the need for structure, method and process. What we do is use a fresh new inclusive approach to lead and manage the firm – and ‘design think’ to create the most simple, agile, innovative and inspirational firm of the future.



As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

I wish you and your families a Christmas and a blissful New Year!


1 Reference 'What makes an organization networked?' by Greg Satell, Harvard Business Review, June 08, 2015

2 Please see The Weekender, Issue 5, 'Beyond Partnership to Networked Leadership: A New Model for Law Firms', Dec 11, 2016.

3 Refer ‘Everyone a leader: A Grassroots Model for the New Workplace’ by Horst Bergmann, Kathleen Hurson, and Darlene F. Russ-Eft, published by John Wiley & Sons, April 22, 1999

 Refer 'Followership: How Followers are creating Change and Changing Leaders' by Barbara Kellerman‎ (Centre for Public Leadership), February 18, 2008

4  Refer Reinventing organizations’ by Frederic Laloux (2016, First edition) published by Nelson Parker

5  Refer The Visible Expert by Lee W. Frederiksen Copyright © 2014