3 Letters Separating Smart Leaders From The Smartest

I was at an event last week where the keynote speaker used a term that caught a member of my lunch table by curiosity. He leaned over to ask me, “What’s a PLN?”

In response to his query and perhaps yours, the term “PLN” stands for “Personal Learning Network” and its origins are found in the Connectivism Theory. (Siemens, G. & Downes, S., 2005)

A Personal Learning Network is a vibrant, ever-changing roundtable to which leaders go to both share and learn. These groups reflect similar values, passions, yet may be widespread in terms of experience and expertise. Leaders build PLNs the same way they build any network — by investing time to find and connect with people they trust and have shared interests, values, and passions. My personal PLN includes a number of organizational leaders representing varied communities and thought leaders who support and challenge my capacity to live, lead, and serve. My PLN also provides a wider perspective to help reframe and successfully problem-solve the challenges encountered when dealing with the universal leadership realities of complexity, isolation, weariness, and fatigue.


Like many of you, I am in-tune and active within the global social network of technology. While the web can be an efficient medium for networking, the true vehicle to build healthy connections is through the power of face-to-face professional relationships. Let’s explore further the process of landing your “fit” within a PLN:

Step One: Find Your Professionals

Imagine you were moving to a new city. Initially, you would seek professionals to trust with home repairs, health, and even dry cleaning. You might find these people by asking neighbors and friends or using an online resource like Angie’s List. Similarly, finding professionals for a PLN begins by connecting with organizations whose mission statements and resources align with your personal beliefs and preferred future.

Step Two: Find Your Niche

In addition to establishing your professional contacts in a new community, you might begin to frequent places connected to your personal interests, like a gym, church, or coffee shop. In these places, you will likely find others who have shared interests. These places make you feel comfortable. In a PLN, these comfortable places are those where people gather around similar passions or experiences. For organizational leaders, those places can vary based upon roles and lines of organizational authority and responsibility.

Step Three: Find A Trusted Coach

It’s important to have a facilitator/coach in your PLN who you respect highly and who will help you grow. Thought partners are those people who you feel connected to because they “get” you and are “for” you. These trusted coaches become the foundation of any vibrant PLN and often become friends for life. These are the individuals who are respected to support, challenge, and expand your natural tunnel vision, transform your perspective, and encourage you when stress and pressure are on the rise.

Getting Real

The best part of a PLN is that it is personal. A “professional learning network” is ultimately a “personal learning network.” It’s important to explore your PLNs in a conscious way that makes you feel comfortable. Leaders gravitate to networks from all corners of personality and experience. Gelling as a collective of professionals may take some time as each member gradually begins to step from behind walls that preserve what he or she is superficially trying to prove or hide from.

Looking for a trusted PLN? Now is a perfect time to consider joining a network of smart, humble, and hungry leaders who will help you grow to become Leaders Worth Following. Similar to moving into a new home, the hardest part is the initial step of journeying outside of your comfort to meet the neighbors, taking new roads to explore your surrounding, or joining a club or study group. All of these require risk but community is essential for growth, happiness, and wellbeing.

If you want to be intentional about your personal and professional development while breaking through to a higher capacity of health, alignment, and overall leadership influence, it’s time to step into a PLN.

And to that end, here’s an exciting opportunity through GiANT to join a professional global network of liberating leaders. It’s called XCore, and it’s a 12-month program specifically designed to improve the ability of leaders to create an apprenticeship culture, raise your personal capacity to lead, and accelerate the health of your organization. Interested? Visit www.giantworldwide.com/xcore to learn more.