The Importance of Intranet Leadership, Part 1

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (21-Aug-2006)

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The book I'm currently reading is teaching me a lot about the qualities of a good leader. It's a book that won't be found in the business or self-improvement sections of any bookstore. Roland Huntford's The Last Place on Earth recounts the 1911 race—between Britain's Robert Falcon Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen—to be the first person to set foot on the South Pole.

This is a story of two expedition leaders with very different styles and personalities. It's about British aristocracy versus Norwegian meritocracy. It's about leadership ability. But ultimately, it's about the crucial decisions made by Scott and Amundsen—decisions that led to the victory of the latter and the demise of the former.

The lessons learned from this book got me to thinking about the qualities of a good intranet leader and what's required to manage and lead a large multi-disciplinary group of disparate professionals—developers, designers, business analysts, and content owners.

Two Types of Leaders

Intranets are ruled by committee, not by a single person or department. But, in most high-volume, enterprise-wide intranets, there's still a hierarchy to this committee with two distinct leaders: The intranet overseer and the subsite leaders (see table below).

Many people in the corporate world pay a lot of attention to the hard skills and resources required to build and manage an IT system without giving enough thought to the soft skills—the people who put it all together. Those in leadership positions know how to manage not only projects and system, but also the people who work on them.

Management of personnel, or team leadership, follows the same programming principle of "garbage in, garbage out." If staff aren't happy, are mistreated, or don't feel confident in the leadership abilities of those above them, they will be less likely to put in that extra effort required to build and manage an intranet.

Good leaders command a presence and instill in their staff a sense of confidence and trust without putting on airs. Even when staff encounter difficult situations—whether it be trying to overcome a problem with a project deliverable or the frenetic pace of trying to recover from a debilitating system crash—good leaders have this ability to guide them and impart upon them a sense of security.

Intranet Leaders
Intranet Overseer Subsite Leaders
The leader's leader. The leader of an individual intranet subsite.
Responsible for overseeing the activities of the entire intranet, its members, and to a lesser extent the user community (the overseer relies on subsite leaders to communicate the needs and concerns of their respective users Responsible for communicating the needs and concerns of their immediate users to the intranet committee. Subsite leaders are the voice of their users.
Acts as a mediator, liaison, and coordinator for all subsite leaders. Acts as a coordinator for the activities of their subsite's content managers.

(See my article Multi-tier Intranet Ownership for more on intranet governance models.)

The Qualities of a Good Intranet Leader

You can't buy good leadership skills. Books and seminars can help improve people's leadership skills, but it can't make them something they're not. Good leaders have an inherent ability that's fortified by experience and past actions. They learn from their mistakes and take these lessons to heart.

Good intranet leaders:

That concludes part one of this report. Check back to Intranet Journal for part two, covering how not to lead an intranet team.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.