Silverbacks, Connectors and the need for new hybrids

It has been a long time since I focused my interest on the specifics of a P2P Authority Theory. The essay here, by Max Klau, part of the excellent Integral Leadership Review, may turn out to be an important contribution to it.

The essay starts by describing the role of silverbacks, those who are at ease navigating authority and vertical relationships, and the connectors, adept at navigating intimacy and horizontal relationships. But he also describes the evolution of these roles of time, from the purely authoritarian regimes of authority, to today’s hybrid network forms, and moving on to the more pure horizontal (p2p) forms, where leadership is transient and flexible. In such a fully networked environment, new types of individuals are needed, that can navigate both levels. Max Klau describes what needs to happen for this combined micro and macro development to occur.

Some quotes:


On Silverbacks:


The first group I will call “Silverbacks” – a reference to authority relations among our close genetic relatives, the gorillas. As leadership scholar Ronald Heifetz writes,

“Living in small groups averaging from seven to eighteen members, the gorilla society centers around one adult male, called the silverback because of the silver hair on his back and neck. When in rare circumstances three or four silverback males live in the same group, a clear hierarchy orders their association…” (Heifetz, 1994, pp. 50-51). Â

From a psychological perspective, Silverbacks are focused almost exclusively on vertical authority relations. They are highly attuned to dynamics suggesting who is “upâ€? or “downâ€? in any circumstance, and put a great deal of effort into negotiating those authority relationships. However, they are essentially tone-deaf to dynamics playing out along the horizontal intimacy axis. They simply don’t think about it, and as a result have difficulty negotiating those relationships.”

On Connectors:


“The second group I will call “Connectors”. These individuals are primarily focused on horizontal intimacy relationships. They are very sensitive to issues of who is “inâ€? and who is “outâ€? in any circumstance, and put a lot of energy into managing these dynamics. However, they are often tone-deaf to dynamics playing out along the vertical authority axis; they simply don’t think about it, and therefore find it difficult to negotiate those relationships.”


How Silverbacks must change:


The first type of adaptation that must occur is that individuals must be able to negotiate relationships with greater sophistication. Strategies that work well in a simple hierarchy are not sophisticated enough to effectively manage relationships in a fully networked system.

In the case of Silverbacks, this involves developing from a norm of “Defer/Attack/Exitâ€? up and “Controlâ€? down, to “partneringâ€? up and “partneringâ€? down. The concept of “partneringâ€? designates a far more sophisticated relational strategy. It implies a norm of collaboration and mutual exchange, as opposed to a norm of unidirectional commands and unquestioned deference.”


How Connectors must change:


Connectors must make a related adaptation. The simple strategy of sacrificing must transform, once again, into a relational strategy of partnering. Again, the term suggests a sophisticated a relationship based upon collaboration and dialogue that attempts to strike a balance between attending to the needs of both self and other.”


On Macro-level organizational change in a highly networked environment:


It is important to recognize, however, that the traditional division between managing authority and intimacy begins to break down as the level of complexity increases. At a certain point, it becomes apparent that no single individual is really in charge (for example, no single node “controls� the internet), but individuals can have a remarkably large impact on the system as a whole. In this environment, each individual must be able to manage both vertical and horizontal relationships with ever-greater subtlety and sophistication; in addition, individuals must become adept at partnering with those below themselves to empower them to take responsibility for all facets of network life.

In other words, the ideal individual in a fully networked system is a sort of Silverback/Connector hybrid, capable of effectively negotiating increasingly complex relationships in all directions.”

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