How well do you convene?

What’s the role of leaders in innovation?  Convening, argues Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, bringing together groups of people to tackle big issues and commit to action. “The best CEOs do it,” she says. “Effective entrepreneurs do it. Middle managers who become change agents do it. Individuals with a passion do it. Weak leaders are too timid to do it.” Kanter cites former US president Bill Clinton as a highly effective convenor, somebody able to quickly identify and bring together people with the right capabilities to do the actual work of change. Convenors have been around for aeons, presiding over discussions in town squares, salons, coffee houses, laboratories and all manner of forums, adds Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The natural history of innovation. He sees the Web as yet another tool convenors can use to link people, and their networks, to generate ideas, swap stories and resolve problems. This creates massive opportunities for innovation, as the recent Management 2.0 Challenge underlined. “As leadership shifts away from hierarchical decisions-at-the-top-slowly-cascading-downward, to social networks and self-organising, knowing how to use convening power becomes critical,” Kanter says. Convenors need to think big – make the issues and promise of action compelling, think beyond the usual suspects, and seek commitments to action. “Virtual communication and social media are great tools,” she adds, “but convening still matters. The best leaders convene conversations. They set the stage that enables others to develop solutions.”

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