As I speak to leadership groups and mention the value of networking, I invariably get a brave soul or two who raises their hands to make these points:
- I’m an introvert. HELP!
- I hate networking events. They seem like a waste of time. You meet a lot of people, none of whom remember you for more than a millisecond.
- Networking just seems like a way to promote yourself and get others to do things for you.
- I have lots of work to do. I don’t have time for this stuff.
And I remember the time I thought the same thoughts and had the same questions. And how, over time, I’ve done a complete shift in how I view networking and my own network. For I now know:
- That my network is one of my most valuable assets
- That your network either pulls you up or keeps you down
- That networks are about reciprocity, about giving as much as receiving
The Impact of Networks
Proof positive: When I began consulting in 2004, my network was weak. Perhaps even pathetic. 50 names. Mostly from the employer I has spent the last 13 years with. Some of whom I was not certain they would remember me. Not a great way to start.
Yet over time, I have an amazing network. It is wide and deep and filled with the most amazing people. To get to that point, I had to learn the art of networking and creating professional relationships that are not prescribed and defined by an organization chart. I had to figure out how to connect with people who would meet with me, help me, work with me and refer me because they wanted to, not because their boss said they had to.
In today’s hyper-connected and fast changing world leaders need deep and rich networks. Inside and outside of their organization. To stay abreast of new trends. To meet the people who can help them with a problem or a project. To find top talent. To stay current. To work cross-functionally. To work creatively. And ultimately to do better work, to access resources, to learn, to grow and to be a better person.
Making the Right Connections
But you need to know that networking is a two way street. You give before you receive. You share and others will share in return. You teach and others will teach you what they can. You support and others will support you.
It is true that what you give, you also receive. Not one for one. But in a bigger, more wondrous way.
And I’ve found that the more successful the person, the more likely they are to ask what they can do for me. And believe me, it’s not an aberration – it happens time and time and time again.
I’ve also learned that powerful networks don’t just happen. They take time. They take effort. And they take some strategic focus. In this post, I’d like help you build a network as rich as the one I have.
Yet your network should not be measured by how many contacts you have, how many business cards are stacked on your desk or how many LinkedIn connections you’ve amassed.
It is measured by how many of the RIGHT connections you make and your skill at making those connections valuable, for the other person and then for you. Now you might think that the RIGHT connections are those with potential clients or customers or the “right” people who will promote you in your organization. In reality, the most vibrant networks have different people in them.
The Five Networks that Leaders Need
Let me share the five categories of people you want in your network:
- Connectors – There are people in this world who love nothing better than connecting the right people together. They have a wide network. They have an intuition that tells them that you need to meet person “X”. They love to make introductions. Pay attention when they connect you with someone – they most likely are right! And know who they are so that when you are wondering “Who can help me with this?” – your connectors know exactly who you should reach out
- Advocates – Everyone needs people in their network that sing their praises. Who know what you do (or your team or company) and are witness to how well you do it. Who can be called on to be a reference for you, but who also spontaneously let’s others know they really need to talk to you because you are fabulous at what you do. Treasure these folks! And be an advocate for others.
- Allies – You’ll want to have a network that includes people who support the work you do and at times even want to work with you. They may have similar or complementary skills. They often share your world view and can help you advance the work you are undertaking. These are people you love to do work with.
- Supporters – These are the folks who raise you up; your rainy day friends and colleagues. They affirm you and support you emotionally. They provide unconditional positive regard. They cheer you on. And since leadership can be a lonely endeavor, you’ll want a few supporters on your side.
- Challengers – As opposed to your supporters, challengers cause you to think differently and deeper and better. They call you out. They provide unvarnished, but helpful feedback. They often are ahead of you in some way – and they encourage you to come up to the place they are. They can challenge your professionally or personally. But they raise the bar for you and cause discomfort – the kind that comes with growth. It’s easy to dismiss or avoid them. Instead treasure them – as they do what so few others have the courage to do.
A rich network that works for you will have a mix of all five categories. And not in equal measure, as advocates are most likely rarer (yet often more valuable). And there are not neat little boxes. At times someone might challenge you mightily and then be your best working partner as an ally.
What is the Strength of Your Network?
In evaluating the strength of your network ask:
- In what ways am I showing up for those in my network? Am I willing to advocate? Connect? Support? Challenge?
- What is the mix of individuals I have in my active network? Am I missing some categories?
- Am I spending too much time in my comfort zone (most likely supporters or allies)?
- What can I do to build my network? To reach out? To help someone else?
Thinking about your network with this lens answers ALL the objections I listed at the beginning of this post:
- One does not have to be an introvert to cultivate these relationships, for they are neither superficial nor totally social.
- These networks are not developed at networking events; they are nurtured one action at a time.
- The strength of your network is more about what you do for others, rather than what they do for you. It is about giving and knowing that others will give, when needed or asked, in return.
- We all need advocates and connectors. You may do great work – but it won’t go farther than that if no one knows.
Leadership today is about connection – and collaboration – and networks. There are no great “stand alone” leaders. If you are going to reach your goals, you need a network – and with most things of value, that takes time.
If you want to enhance strong and deep relationships within your leadership team, talk to us about our leadership circles which do this by design (in addition to developing relevant leadership skills). We also custom design and facilitate leadership retreats where deep connections can be formed.