Seven Ways Leaders Build Strong Networks
How do leaders build strong networks? As a leader, how to make the right connections with the right people? What is networking and why it is so important for your career? How do great leaders leverage their professional networks to propel their leadership toward the next level?
Networking is about developing and using your networks in a way that builds relationships and strengthens alliances in service of the organization’s goals.
A strong leadership network will serve you and the organization well, but it can also extend beyond the job. If you have a great reputation within your network, you have the advantage of having a solid group of contacts who can be resources if you look to extend your professional reach.
Networking is critical. No one is smart enough to solve really important problems alone.
Being able to build, and test ideas through a network of diverse perspectives offers leaders the benefits of new insights, which increase the chance of uncovering real breakthroughs. Having a rich network of productive stakeholders can open new doors and accelerate innovation across the enterprise.
Much of the success of any endeavor — be it personal or professional — is attributed to relationships. The most productive relationships are almost always the positive ones.
WarningIf one wants to be popular, he has to have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. If an organization or team wants to achieve its goals, it has to foster a strong and solid bond among its members.
Networking is important for everybody — particularly those who are interested in becoming a leader in their organization. A well-built and maintained professional network could be one of the most powerful tools for your career advancement.
A lot of people have trouble with networking because they are introverted, feel like they are using people and come off as selfish instead of helpful. These seven tips will help you make the right connections with the right people and build strong networks.
They Are Authentic
You should build authentic connections with others by sharing your story and your passions. Connect on common experiences and interests — you’ll be surprised by what you learn about others and where those conversations can take you.
The root of every connection is sincerity and seeking to understand others.
WarningTake the time to truly hear people’s stories and find ways that you can add value to their lives. Not every connection is going to turn into an impactful relationship, but if you stay sincere in your interactions, you’re bound to make real connections and leave a lasting impression.
Elevator small talk isn’t necessarily related to conversations taking place within an elevator. This can be applied to networking opportunities in general.
Remain confident, introduce yourself and your company, and reveal what geographical area you cover and what your specialty is. Don’t take too long, speak with confidence and give the other side a chance to talk.
Networking isn’t a ploy for getting your way. If you earn a reputation as someone who takes but doesn’t give, who uses information inappropriately, or who breaks confidences, your networks will shut down.
Take a genuine interest in people for who they are.
WarningIt won’t always be immediately obvious how someone can be helpful to you, but disengaging from the conversation is a bad idea. Many opportunities come from sources you would never expect.
Authenticity generates trust. People will see through networking that is self-serving or manipulative.
Leadership networking demands authenticity: have a genuine objective of building relationships providing support, and accomplishing the work for the benefit of the organisation.
They Dare To Share
Networking should never be a one-way street. You can always offer advice, experience, skills and expertise. Everyone has something to offer– this could also be a great opportunity to find or become a mentor.
You don’t always have to gain something in a networking relationship.
If you can introduce people who can benefit from one another, it’s just as effective. You can build a stronger rapport with multiple people and it makes you very good.
It’s very important that both you and the other party gain equally when networking.
WarningIf you benefit more than the other person, he or she will feel cheated and used. When that happens, you won’t be able to go back and built a long-term relationship.
Be careful: networking is done primarily so we can benefit from it. We tend to focus on what others can do for us, more than what we can do for them. As a result, we have a tendency to talk more about what we need, what we want, and what we expect.
Just think that the other people in your network are in it for the same reason as you. You want them to listen to your ideas and inputs.
Therefore, you should also be willing to be on the receiving end of their ideas and inputs. Listen to what they have to say, just as they listen to you.
Reciprocity is important. Having resources such as information, services, and access will build your leadership network through give and take.
WarningDon’t over think and calculate. Be interested, ask questions and genuinely offer a way to help. It’s what we do naturally and in most of great friendships there’s an element of give and take.
They Communicate Skillfully
If you want to lead, you need to be able to communicate effectively. Communication is crucial in getting a group of people to share issues and solve problems the efficient way.
Communication is so important for leaders. Communicate in a way that builds awareness of your needs and your assets.
WarningIf you can’t make others aware of what you can offer and what you need in order to accomplish goals, your networking strategies will be ineffective.
Effective leadership communication is clear and simple. Don’t be vague when discussing what you want from your networks.
Communicate clearly your goal, and relevant information that might help. You lose productivity when people have to circle back around to you for clarification on important information.
Break down complex thoughts and strategies into simple concepts your peers can relate to. The more memorable, the better.
If you’re having trouble distilling something to its essence, it’s a sign that you may not have a clear understanding of it. That makes it impossible for you to communicate it to others effectively. Try not to get caught up in technical jargon and business-speak.
Be clear and concise. Practice what I call calculated communication. Weigh the options, understand the issue, and then offer direction in an easily understood format. Words can leave a lot of room for interpretation if you let them.
New digital platforms, corporate team collaboration sites, and social media networks make it easier than ever to connect with far-flung, global colleagues.
Whether through digital or face-to-face communication, making new connections and sustaining existing ones is at the heart of leveraging your networks.
Perhaps the most important principle of effective leadership communication is the ability to inspire those around you.
As a leader, you have a vision of success that you want to achieve with the help of your networks. It’s up to you to rally them around that goal and help them embrace the vision and give advice toward it.
They Are Open-minded
Do not expect your contacts to have the same mindset, outlook or sets of values as you. This is simply impossible. In fact, you have to anticipate that, at some point, there will be differences in opinions.
You have to practice keeping an open mind and have no prejudices. Take into consideration the fact that you cannot expect everyone to be the same.
WarningDifferent strokes for different folks. If you are close-minded and unwilling to accept and get over your differences, you will have trouble moving the relationship forward, or nurturing it to make it productive and successful.
Networking is an afterthought for many busy managers.
But these networks allow you to meet a diverse group of professionals. They also are a way to develop important social skills for many professionals and may be the first place you turn when you start thinking about changing careers.
Don’t be too narrow when making connections. Some of them might not be useful at first glance but they might come in handy when some of your other connections need them. A good network is solidified when all members have benefits from being a part of it.
Clearly, it is important to link up to the influencers in your intended field. But do not underestimate the importance of weak ties.
It is important to create a diverse network — diverse people, diverse industries and diverse locations — even though these connections may seem remote to your present career or contemplated future. Diversity can also help when seeking funding for a startup.
Be the kind of person who is interested in making new friends whatever their culture or background!
You are going to learn new stuff and that will help you accept different thoughts and behaviors! Making new friends will add to your character and help in gaining new experiences!
They Step Out Of Their Comfort Zone
Extroverts and those who naturally met people through daily interactions will now have to go out of their way to find new ways of connecting. LinkedIn, Slack and other social networks are a place to start, but look beyond your immediate connections.
Get introduced to new people through friends and coworkers and casually expand your network through meet and greets.
These are a lot of people’s main source of connection and community these days. And people who are normally too busy to participate might now be making themselves more available.
Consider speaking at an event or participating in a roundtable.
In addition to giving you the opportunity to meet others, doing so will allow you to position yourself as a resource — an expert in the field — others will be inclined to turn to. Similarly, industry conferences or trade shows can be an effective means of meeting new people.
Networking is not just about you connecting with business contacts. It also involves you acting as a bridge or a conduit from time to time, connecting other parties together. By connecting others, you are actually widening your own network.
Find a context powerful enough to make you feel great about networking — this is the only thing you need to become a great networker.
WarningPotent networks are not forged through casual interactions but through shared activities including cross-functional teams, sports teams community service ventures, voluntary associations, for-profit boards and charitable foundations.
Networkers go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their knowledge and expand their paradigms.
For example, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz’ travels through Europe allowed him to meet coffee experts and cafe owners, and to crystallize his thinking about how Starbucks could bring a new coffee culture to the United States. Howard Schultz was later able to draw on this community of coffee aficionados to guide his vision and to help him grow the business to unprecedented levels.
They Plan Ahead
While lots of things seem uncertain right now, you can take steps to set yourself up for success, no matter what happens. Make sure that your resume and LinkedIn profiles are up to date.
Spend time thinking about your goals so that you can clearly articulate them to someone else.
Join organizations, clubs and groups that are centered around the role and field you want. Making connections now will help you later.
Be thoughtful about who is in your network and the best way to connect with these people.
WarningSpend your time wisely by focusing on these relationships and nurturing them over time. Be deliberate about what organizations and events you attend to help you connect with potential contacts. And take action!
A strong network supports and advocates for you. It helps you sell your ideas across the organization, promotes you for new opportunities. Once you make connections and offer to help others achieve their goals, your contacts will respond in kind when you have a need.
Strategic networking should not consist solely of building new connections outside of your organization.
Strong relationships with key stakeholders can make it easier to get a project approved, or increase one’s standing if an opportunity for a promotion presents itself. Similarly, by building relationships with decision-makers in the organization, it’s possible to establish open lines of communication and stay abreast of strategic changes that may impact your role.
Do not build relationships thinking that it will only last as long as the next six months, at least until the current business plan you are working on is fully launched.
You have to aim to make long-lasting connections. The beauty of networking is that, when done right, it is an excellent tool to ensure that connections remain for a very long time.
They Choose The Right People
The secret to networking isn’t to attend a networking event and pass out as many business cards as you can. It’s not meeting as many people as possible in hopes something will work out.
Connections are not Pokémon, you don’t need them all. You need to concentrate on the people who you know will be able to make a difference.
Make a plan of connections you need and work towards achieving it. Don’t disregard those that don’t seem useful at the moment but focus on getting the ones that you need most.
When networking, quality matters the most. Networkers will choose only several individuals, those they deem to be the best partners, and approach them.
WarningThey are more concerned with making a lasting impression on a handful of contacts, instead of rubbing elbows with a hundred. The advantage of this strategy is that the networking will be more concentrated or focused.
Each person in a network can have great value, regardless of their work title. Do not dismiss people simply because they don’t have the right title or perceived influence. The secretary you dismiss at a gathering might know the exec you have been trying to reach out to for months.
Mutual benefit is always a good thing when it comes to bringing two sides together.
Find people who fit your business or social profile, people with whom you can connect. Try to focus your networking efforts on the right people — use your people skills to get close and spark up a conversation, but don’t waste a lot of time on people you don’t really want be acquainted with.
Instead of speaking with everyone, successful networkers identify the key people who can help them to achieve their goals. Who are the relevant players in your defined market?
Make a list of the key people you want to network with and the relevant people you already know in your market. Do you have any existing connections who can introduce you?
An effective leader understands that networking is important. As such, building, maintaining, and interacting with your professional network should be a key component of any leadership development plan.
A strong leadership network will serve you and your organization well, but it can also extend beyond the job. Make networking a part of your lifestyle.
Do not do it only when you are going to start a new business, or you are looking for a promotion or a career change. Relationships take time to begin, develop, and flourish. It is not something that is created overnight.
Networking does not gain immediate results.
WarningLasting connections, especially those that last a lifetime, take a lot of effort and work, and they certainly also take a lot of time. Therefore, it is a good idea to practice networking in your daily lives, be it personally or professionally.
Networking is not an activity to perform, but a behaviour to adopt.
A lot of us are looking for ways to help, learn, share, make a difference and feel connected. A little effort on your part now could create long-lasting relationships that benefit you, and your network, in the future.
By helping you build a successful team, anticipate organizational changes, and stay on top of industry trends, your professional network is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal as a leader.
I hope this can help you develop a steady and useful network which will benefit everyone involved. Networking might take time and effort but, in the long run, it pays off and can resolve potentially harmful situations. Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below!