“I hate networking!” is a common statement from many leaders I coach. For many of them, particularly those who identify as introverts, networking makes them feel insincere, uncomfortable and even “dirty”. They will often tell me about the rare extrovert they know, who has a passion for networking and either envy them or more commonly, judge them for being exploitative and inauthentic.
For leaders transitioning up the career ladder a solid network is often the difference between successful transition or a stall. The idea of making friends or meeting new peers is itself not unacceptable, but the idea of deriving some kind of gain from these friendships is often less palatable. Sally Helgesen in her book, co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith ‘How Women Rise’, talks about the natural tendency that women have to build relationships, but how unnatural it often feels to them to effectively leverage these relationships.
As unappealing as it seems to many, there is no doubt that networking has a profound and positive impact on success in the business world. Those who actively network experience a range of benefits including faster advancement, deeper knowledge and greater status and impact, to name just a few.
For those who are measured on productivity per hour, the difference between success and failure is often related to the number of contacts they have in their network. In a 2016 study of 165 lawyers, researchers found that the ability to network effectively both internally and externally was a critical success factor to support billable hours.
For leaders transitioning up the career ladder a solid network is often the difference between successful transition or a stall.
The irony is that when we transition into a new role, it is very often true that the last thing we want to think about is building our networks. For most of us, especially those of us who are averse to networking anyway, a new role means the acquisition of new skills, higher expectations and performance pressures and so on, and so we put any thought of networking on the “back burner” for at least 6 months.
The Three Forms of Networks
But what do we mean when we use the word ‘network’? A network can be defined as a “set of social or professional connections”. From this perspective we can see that we are all involved in different types of networks and that networking itself is highly contextual.
Not only do we all use networks, it is also true that the nature of our networks change naturally as we transition up the career ladder:
- As individual contributors, we typically form operational networks with other members of our teams, which is critical to get the job done.
- Later on, we may move on to create more intentional personal networks as Managers and then perhaps aim for strategic networks across different functional areas as we become Leaders or Managers of Managers.
At each stage of our leadership evolution, these networks can act as a vital support to our transition and the successful execution of our roles. The difference between these 3 levels of networking is subtle but powerful and leaders who miss this pay the price.
- Purpose: Getting work done efficiently; maintain the capacities and functions required of the group
- Focus: Internal and oriented toward current demands
- Players and recruitment: Non-discretionary. Dictated by the task
- Network attributes and key behaviours: Depth- build strong working relationships
- Purpose: Enhancing personal and professional development; providing referrals. to useful information and contacts
- Focus: External and oriented toward current and future interests
- Players and recruitment: Discretionary – need to use your discernment to decide who is valuable and who not
- Network attributes and key behaviours: Breadth- reach out to those who can make referrals
- Purpose: Figuring out future priorities and challenges; getting stakeholders support for them
- Focus: Internal and external and oriented towards the future
- Players and recruitment: Discretionary. Need to use your discernment to decide who is valuable and who not
- Network attributes and key behaviours: Leverage- create inside/outside links
(Adapted from: https://hbr.org/2007/01/how-leaders-create-and-use-networks)
In my executive coaching practice working with transitioning leaders, networking is often the differentiator between those who progress and those who stall.
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.
So, what networks do you have and how can you create and leverage your operational, personal and strategic networks?
“Everything you want in life is a relationship away.” Idowu Koyenika
Why We Don’t Network Well– What’s our resistance to networking and why do we find it so challenging?