The Social Architect

In my role as a leadership adviser I’m quite often asked to give talks or presentations on aspects of leadership.  These sessions can be very formal or can take the form of a general group discussion.  In these latter sessions the topic of informal leadership has become a recurring theme, at which point I usually introduce the concept of the ‘social architect’.

Some years ago, while watching a documentary on the England football team, I was taken by an expression used by Professor Willi Railo on the relationship between Sven Goran Eriksson and David Beckham.  Describing David Beckham as a social architect (0r cultural architect – thanks Bob!), he explained how Sven Goran Eriksson managed the team through David Beckham, recognising the respect the players had for their Captain and his ability to impart the manager’s directions in a way which the players responded to best.

In the workplace, social architects are those individuals who employees will identify as being influential regardless of their formal position.  It is often the case that these social architects are not in positions of management but can be identified as informal leaders.  Effective leaders are very good at identifying such individuals and communicating through them in order to obtain employee support and buy-in.  In fact, working through the social architects of a company can be the difference between success and failure in change management.

As a leader, taking the time to observe the interactions of your employees may well be enough to identify the social architects in your company.  Another method might be to simply ask your employees to indicate (anonymously if necessary) who they feel they would respond to best as their manager or who they feel makes the most positive impact in their department and why.  If you’ve already taken the time to know and understand your employees the correct people will already be in the correct positions!

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