Scarlet Thinking and Social Capital

Scarlet Thinking and Social Capital

Social Capital as a Leadership Competency


social capitalDefinition of Social Capital as a competency: having Social Capital is defined as having a network of individual contacts and colleagues that trust and respect you as a person. These can be real world, online, or both. 

Social capital has long been referenced as a form of power. Think of the Old Boys’ club; the parents who get their child into the perfect public school because a connection pulls strings; the teenager that gets a work experience placement where they are doing more than making tea because their uncle agrees to show them the ropes in his business. It’s all about the people you know and the doors they can open for you.

Contacts Equals Capital

A person with good social capital is someone who has a large network of contacts. These can include alumni from their University, colleagues from past workplaces, friends they have collected along the way,  members of professional organisations, golf clubs, book clubs, running clubs, charities where they on the board of trustees. The list can go on and on, but the point is that they have cultivated these connections and are able to pick up the phone or drop them an email whenever they wish. They have a network that can open doors for them.

One of my participants in my dissertation research said, when talking about a job she was eager to leave, “I didn’t like leaving on bad terms. Usually, I don’t burn my bridges. I always like to keep that connection going.” The woman in this case was a warm, friendly and well-connected individual who openly acknowledges that she owes much of her success to this.

Get The Right Attitude

If cultivating connections seems a little cold and strategic for you, that’s the wrong attitude to take. First, it’s wise to actually be genuinely interested in the person rather thinking what they can do for you. It’s a two way street too. Helping others, offering advice, mentoring, inviting people along to events…all these things can benefit others. Connections share the power!

 social capital over dinnerDon’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s all about the numbers, however. Connections need depth to stay alive. It’s a lot of work to keep that connection going and it’s virtually impossible if you are only focused on growing your pool of followers, LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends. Likewise, while you can meet some pretty fascinating people online, there comes a point where it helps to take it offline to create a real, deep connection. This doesn’t have to be face to face. Phone conversations work well too, and can be easier for people to fit in.

How do you keep up these connections? Here are some suggestions:


  • Meeting someone for a one to one after you’ve met them at a networking event
  • setting up an informal social dinner for the heads of department in your company
  • Sending a link or newspaper cutting that could be interesting to one of your contacts
  • Spending ten minutes a day on LinkedIn commenting on people’s articles and statuses
  • Inviting someone to join you at an event
  • Arranging to meet someone at a conference you are both attending

Social capital has played a huge part in my life. It’s allowed me to find my son work experience in the film industry, found me fascinating people to interview for my dissertation, full of rich data and stories. I’ve found work through my connections, but more than that, they’ve introduced me to new books, new ways of thinking and experiences….all things which go into making a well rounded leader.

Share the Love

A good connector also shares their connections. They are always on the lookout for who could help whom. They are known for making introductions. This is a feature of the Host Leader, a metaphor for a certain type of modern leadership which suits contemporary issues and society.


Here are some questions to ask yourself…


  • Who do I know who has excellent social capital and what can I learn from them?
  • Do I have enough connections to make up a rich reservoir of people I can call on?
  • How many people do I feel I have really strong relationships with?
  • Which relationships would I like to cultivate and why?
  • What is the best way to do this?
  • Finally, how can I help them at the same time?

Social capital is one of the areas we focus on in our della Scala leadership experience




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