Brokerage & closure: important lesson for leadership

Closure & brokerageThis picture* illustrates two important assets of clusters of networks: closure & brokerage. Brokerage is the unique connection between different networks. Brokers bring diversity. They connect different perspectives and make innovation and creativity possible. Closure is making networks closed and intense. Within a closed network people know and trust each other. They think and act as a group.

Patrick Kenis talked about closure & brokerage, the strength of weak ties and the importance of social capital in the third module of the masterclass leadership for middle management. The topic struck a chord with the participants. It’s not only about building strong teams, about getting to know, understand and trust everybody. When new ideas and innovation are needed,  homogeneity is the enemy and respect for diversity is key. Brokers have to be protected and not everybody has to be “assimilated”.

The parallel with leadership development is clear. “In sameness we connect, in diversity we grow.” Also for our own development, diversity is key. We have to do many things, lose ourselves in many ways, before we can start integrating and making sense of our experiences in new and innovating ways. Only thinking about “closure” and “integration” makes us stand still. Our capacity to be our own identity broker determines our growth and adaptability.

Any comment?

* Burt, R. (2005) Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 7. Homogeneity & diversity, Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Brokerage & closure: important lesson for leadership

  1. Wouter says:

    Very original how you link this to leadership; it certainly raises some interesting questions. Do embedded / closed nets call for authentic leaders, while bridging / brokerage positions require a more Heifetzian leader ‘balancing’ differen factions?
    They also provide different takes on how leadership is granted. Whereas closure grants informal authority to those with centrality (social / political capital), brokerage provides it through access to unique sources of information and resources.
    Even in the stimulation of creativity / innovation they provide competing explanations: whereas information through brokers is more ‘novel’, information from strong ties is easier to assimilate and thus more often finds its way into actual innovations. Imo this points to yet another balance that leadership needs to strike: between more structural and direct sources of competitive advantage and more fickle, yet potentially more valuable ones.

  2. Thanks for your contribution. It raises indeed questions about the links between authority & power, trust & leadership, exploration & exploitation, human & social capital. It interests me to explore this further: in which circumstances do organisations need to put the emphasis on which forms of authority and/or leadership?

    Patrick Kenis talked about “complex leadership” to be able to realize results through networks. Complex leadership puts the result first, appreciates differences, integrates in a smart way and not through bureaucracy, is pragmatic (no longtermitis, institutionalitis or comprehensivitis), political and T-shaped (contributes across and within). The parallels with Heifetz are clear.

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