Rethink Networking

Why you should view networking as an essential leadership competency

Many of my coaching clients either say they don’t like networking, or they simply don’t have the time for it. They say things like:

“People who network contact me only when they want something.”

“Networking events are awful. They are full of people thrusting business cards into my hand while looking over my shoulder for someone who might be more useful.”

“I don’t have the time or the energy to network. At the end of the day all I want to do is get home to see my kids before they go to bed.”

In the light of such comments, it might be helpful to clarify what networking is not about.

It’s not about exchanging business cards, working a room, having unproductive lunch or coffee meetings, sucking up to important people or manipulating others for your own benefit.

What networking is about is building strategic business relationships as a core leadership competency.

Why bother?

Building a network of professional relationships enables you to:

  • Develop your leadership capacity by accessing diverse perspectives and relevant information from which you can gain new insights and make intelligent decisions.
  • Influence successfully within your industry/profession and across your organization.
  • Support others within your network of relationships.
  • Get the support you need to be even more successful in your current role.
  • Influence your career progression.
  • And gain energy and stimulation from interesting people.

Taking networking seriously as a core leadership competency can make the difference between :

Being a good leader who is stuck you your current role, to an excellent leader who is going places;

Being a member of a profession, and a respected leader of that profession;

Being a person whose sphere of influence is small, to a leader who is known and respected by many;

And being a person who thinks and acts strategically to manage your career, and someone who reacts to career opportunities if and when they come along.

If you have so far viewed networking as a “nice to do if I had the time” it would be wise to rethink your approach and view it as “an essential leadership attribute I need to master.”

How to take a more strategic approach

A reactive approach to networking goes something like: “I will set aside five hours per week to network.” This doesn’t usually work because you are creating a task out of a perceived need.

As soon as more immediate needs come along, this task drops off the end of your to-do list.

A more strategic approach is to create a diverse network of relationships as a way of life. This means you need to:

  • Be open and available to make contact with people around you, rather than burying your head in tasks.
  • Find ways to invest in and become an asset to others.
  • Dig your well before you’re thirsty – build your network of relationships through investing in others long before you need help or support from the people in your network.
  • Build relationships all the time, as a way of life. We all have opportunities to develop relationships every day, both inside and outside of our organizations – take them.
  • Be interested and interesting – building a network of relationships requires mutual connection where both parties are stimulated by the interaction.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself – women, in particular, have a reputation for putting others’ needs and interests before their own, which might be an admirable quality but will not result in mutual connections and a network of mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Be a connector – make introductions and bring individuals and groups together.
  • Join professional networks where you can make new contacts, be exposed to diverse thinking and build new friendships.
  • Follow through – reconnect and stay in touch with people.

In today’s organizations, building and maintaining networks of mutually beneficial professional relationships is the way we do business and progress our careers.

Just in case you hadn’t realized it – networking has become an essential leadership competency, not a “nice to do if I had the time.”

If you want more in-depth advice on how to build networks of strategic professional relationships, you will find a whole chapter on it in the book.

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