In my executive coaching practice where I work with transitioning leaders, networking is often the differentiator between those who succeed and those who get stuck. Given that each leadership transition is characterized by increasing levels of complexity and higher performance expectations, creating a network of rich personal contacts provides support, feedback, insight and resources which are invaluable for every emerging leader.
I am an introvert who struggled to ‘make friends’ with networking throughout most of my professional career. My biggest breakthrough came when I realized that I was never going to get ahead based on my own intrinsic talent or value, but that everything that I wanted or needed to move forward already exists, but in other people’s hands.
Once I understood that interdependence was not a problem, but a resource to me, I began to give myself permission to build and leverage by network, not just for my good, but for the good of others as well. This resolved me of my own moral dilemmas about the risk of “using or abusing” other people through networking. Like the rest of the natural world, we are designed to be part of a network and we each contribute to the health of that network in profound and important ways.
So, what’s behind our resistance to networking?
Old Beliefs That Get in the Way
The answer is, at least in part, that our beliefs sometimes struggle to keep pace with changing realities. A common thinking trap for emerging leaders is the assumption that the skills that got you here will take you further.
Managers who typically rise through the ranks based on their strong technical skills, overlook the fact that a different skill set is required to take them further. When they are challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues across the business, they fail to grasp that this is a relational, not an analytical task.
The breakthrough comes for them when they see that exchanges and interactions with diverse stakeholders are as core to their new role, as technical skills were to the old role. Instead of viewing networking as a “distraction’’ from real work, they need to shift their mindset to understand that it is core to their success as a leader.
Acquiring new, role appropriate networking skills can begin when leaders step back and realize they need to change their identity and approach in order to successfully transition to the next level of leadership. Along with this identity shift is a necessary re-evaluation of old beliefs, including the beliefs relating to networking.
Fixed or Growth Mindsets
The ability to abandon limiting beliefs and allow oneself to assimilate more supportive beliefs is key to growth mindset. Studies on growth mindset have shown that there is a correlation between a fixed mindset and disliking networking. In study of 174 lawyers, researchers documented the effects of either a promotion (growth) or a prevention(fixed) mindset. They found that those in the promotion mindset think primarily about the growth, advancement and accomplishment that networking can bring them.
In contrast, those with a prevention mindset view networking as something they are obligated to take part in for professional reasons. The impact of this attitude is that they felt inauthentic whilst engaging in networking, so they did it less often and, as a result, underperformed in key aspects of their jobs.
Face to Face vs. Online
For the overwhelming majority of introverts that feel daunted by the prospect of having to go face to face with perfect strangers in a networking situation, I have good news.
Not all networking needs to happen face to face although the overwhelming evidence is that this is the most effective way to build relationships. It isn’t the only way, however, and often the opportunity to connect first electronically acts as a kind of “ice-breaker” to facilitate a later face to face conversation, which is less daunting to introverts.
Research conducted by LinkedIn in 2017, where they surveyed 15,905 Linkedin members over 17 countries, found that online networking creates value.
35% of respondents said that casual conversations on LinkedIn led to new business opportunities. In addition, 25% of respondents reported having established a new business partnership through having a conversation on LinkedIn Messaging, whilst 61% agreed that regular online interaction was key to discovering new job opportunities.
This is good news for introverts and those of us who are stuck in a lockdown situation with Covid-19.
So, what can you do to build an effective network that will help you get to where you want to go? Finding a good coach to help you work through your own personal challenges around networking is a good place to start.
Here are a few key coaching questions to get you started on a plan:
- #1 What beliefs are you holding about networking in general and your ability to effectively network yourself? How are these beliefs serving you? What beliefs would be more useful to you right now? If the word ‘’networking’’ doesn’t do it for you, what word can you use to replace it?
- #2: Where are you are in your career? Is the network you currently have reflective of the level of your role?
- #3: Where do you want to be in 1 year from now? How are you using your network to help you get there?
- #4: What actions can you take today to begin to build AND leverage your network?
- #5: Who is there in your network that can help you stay on track with networking?