The Leadership Web

“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone … and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”
–Sandra Day O’Connor



Last week I encountered an event that has led me on a journey to define and build a “leadership web” of trusted advisors.  What’s that? I’ll get to that in a minute.  First, here is the story that has committed me to this path of discovery, a path that is still in work, and one in which I invite you to contribute your ideas and suggestions.

As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I am leading a team that is investigating future strategies for NASA’s mission operations.  Last Tuesday was our first major event – our first briefing via videoteleconference with executives at NASA Headquarters.  One of the key executives was not going to be present but reviewed our materials a few days in advance.  As I was driving to the office the morning of the briefing, I received a phone call from one of his staff members who informed me that he had a list of questions for me to review in advance of the briefing, commenting that “they are significant.”  “Uh oh,” I thought.  That comment quickly turned to a more descriptive and colorful statement when I arrived at the office and saw the actual list of questions.  My heart sank as I read question after question that I was not prepared to answer and that also indicated a theme of deep concern with our proposed approach.  Frankly, I didn’t know what I was going to do!

What I really could have used at that moment is a good dose of advice.  Enter the “leadership web.”  The leadership web is a support network of trusted advisors.  The support can take on many forms but ultimately revolves around the following areas: help with data and information, and help with people.

Here is my thinking so far about potential members of my leadership web:

  • A Business Coach, who asks the questions, “What have you tried? How has this worked? What else can you try?” as a means to identify barriers and to design strategies and actions to overcome them.
  • A Training Advisor, who offers that “research and experience have shown this to be the best way”
  • A Mentor, who offers “this is how I did it”, based on his/her experience and knowledge.
  • A Technical Advisor (or two), who gives expert advice on technical topics and offers “do it this way” based on his/her technical expertise.
  • A Political Advisor, who offers insights on topics non-technical in nature that can have as much of an influence as any technical topic; suggests that “you ought to take this into consideration.”

That is my list so far, and I feel it to be incomplete.  What have I missed?

Many thanks to Susan Mazza (@SusanMazza on Twitter), who suggested I take the approach above and ask for your help in building the leadership web.  Thanks, Susan!

[Update Tuesday, March 31, 2009.  I’m humbled and honored by the feedback I’ve received so far by email and Twitter.  One contributor pointed out that this entry would have created a good discussion, if we all could have read each other’s comments.  I agree!  Therefore, I welcome any ideas or suggestions on collaboration tools to allow us to share and build upon each other’s ideas.]

The Leadership Web