Networking for Leaders
- Networking is a key competency for any modern leader.
- Achieve your goals, but don’t sacrifice your social environment.
- Personal networks are best used to get professional introductions.
- Always be growing: new contacts see who you are now.
- Trust is great, but it is meaningless without practical value and utility.
- Support grows from trust, but only if you make it.
- Periodically review which relationships and techniques work, and modify accordingly.
Personal networks are often best used to gain professional introductions.
Implicit in any leadership role is the development and maintenance of excellence in inter-personal relationships. The ability to lead a team or project successfully is highly dependent on the abilities and commitment of all stakeholders: subordinates, colleagues, friends, contacts, out-group influencers, etc. Even those leaders whose project or task is more focused on managing a process or developing an operational outcome (rather than being a “team” leader) will find that having a larger and more flexible network will only improve their performance.
Beware Networking Traps (Don’t be too goal focused)
It is essential to network according to an “emergent” paradigm. Networking, like many inter-personal behaviours, is not easily soluble with detailed advanced planning. It is advised that leaders do not adopt a goal-based networking strategy, and instead focus on developing relationships for their own sake. (Dale Carnegie's advice to "be genuinely interested in other people" really rings true.)
How many times have we been so concerned with meeting today’s goals that we don’t develop the better relationships with those around us? Managers who overly narrow their focus at work, believing in only a handful of favoured metrics, or adhering to only a certain business guru’s method, inevitably fail to develop better relationships with both those they are responsible for and those to whom they are responsible. Targets must be met, and goals achieved, but there is no point in achieving perfection today if it means sacrificing the future trust and motivation of your team.
Networking and Organisational Trust
An extremely important kind of relationship or network is between the leader and their stakeholder organisations: networking is not just about individuals. Consider the following example: you have decided to undertake an entrepreneurial project that relies heavily on your networks from your previous place of work. You have both good personal and good professional relationships with your former colleagues. However, does this extensive personal network really translate into tangible support from the company? This example highlights how important it is to understand the limitations of pre-existing relationships: those people see you in a certain way, and this may not translate into organisational support for your entrepreneurial ideas.
Developing new contacts is important not simply to grow your network but because you have control over the way you are perceived: as an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur, a manager and a leader in your own right.
It is recommended that readers use their current networks to arrange “introductions” to new contacts, and then during these interviews seek to develop trust at an organisational level, not simply inter-personal level. Doing so by the demonstration of key organisational benefits of supporting their endeavours.
Establishing Reliable Organisational Support
The goal of a true networker is the establishment of both individual and organisational relationships with a high degree of practical value and utility. Identifying those organisations and individuals who “talk a good game” but who are not actually really committed to helping you is of utmost importance. Doing so will save lots of time in the long run and clarify the real deficiencies and problem areas you must actively manage. (For further reading on this applying the Pareto Principle to your business and working life please check out: Timothy Ferriss and Lifehacker )
The amount of support an organisation is willing to lend a project grows slowly in line with trust, but this is no natural process: once an organisational relationship has been established, trust can grow and grow, without ever converting into real support in terms of manpower, finance, legal/insurance or the use of facilities and equipment.
Distilling Support from Trust
Among the many methods for securing support, here are a few easy, practical and reliable techniques:
· Ask for modest but tangible evidence of support from the organisation, such as an official email or printed and signed letter pledging “conceptual support” for a project, or “informal approval” of an enterprise.
· Offer to carry out small tasks and responsibilities, and then to perform them well. (This should not be attempted unless confidence in extremely high quality outcomes is high.)
Demonstrate your commitment to the organisation by arranging top-level introductions to high quality or unique 3rd parties such as potential customers or future clients.
These relationships must be constantly evaluated so that strategic decisions can be made as to which organisational relationships are worth maintaining and which are not. Fewer relationships with true organisational support are much more useful and valuable than innumerable instances of “trust without support”.
Is your Networking Working?
It can be useful to take a note of which relationships are proving most powerful. It is important to carry out a frank assessment of how much time and energy networking tools like social media, or monthly networking dinners are actually taking up. If you seem to be collecting ever more trust and goodwill, but none of this is translating into real support, then it is time to identify the relationships you feel have the most potential and relevance, and work hard to grow them into fully functioning relationships full of practical value and utility.
Remember: personal networks are often best used to gain professional introductions.