Successful networking is vital to becoming an effective leader. The term “networking” refers to the practice of establishing professional contacts who can offer feedback, support, resources, and insight. Many businesspeople view networking as a fundamental element to advancing into a leadership position at their company, where simply concentrating on meeting objectives and the logistical requirements of one’s field no longer covers all the bases. As such, networking is critically important for aspiring leaders and those who have recently been promoted.
Networking is often mistaken for merely keeping a tally of how many people one knows and maintaining an inventory of favors paid and owed to business acquaintances. Adopting such a view of networking could make it easy to see the task as an unpleasant—or even superfluous—one. However, by looking at networking as a strategy for building an alliance for success, it is possible to open the lens of opportunity.
Following are three basic elements of the formula for successful networking coupled with insights on how to harness those relational skills necessary to fulfill the role of a leader:
The first element of the networking formula, internal networking is perhaps the most straightforward of the three. Internal networking encompasses all of the relationships and connections that are logistically essential to efficiently operate a business. From the break room to the boardroom, internal networking ensures that each employee knows his or her responsibilities and deadlines. Leaders who utilize this approach strive for cooperation among the ranks of their operation.
In the case of internal networking, the majority of the relationships formed are born of necessity and revolve around particular tasks or objectives, rather than personal preferences or choices. For example, you interact or communicate with certain people based on their skill sets and ability to help deliver a new product to market by a certain date. One of the key aspects of this style of networking involves knowing each person within one’s network.
Internal networking alone may help you to consistently reach your goals and obtain fulfilling assignments, but it may never lead to expansion or growth. While utilizing an internal networking approach is crucial, it should not be your only option.
The second element of the networking formula, personal networking requires that individuals get out of their comfort zone and reach outside of the workplace. Whereas internal networking achieves what its name implies, it may also stifle the ability of a leader to communicate or establish common ground with professionals from other companies or fields. Essentially, personal networking involves engaging in activities and events through professional organizations, think tanks, alumni gatherings, and other social circles in order to create new points of contact and influence.
A personal network represents links created by choice, as opposed to the somewhat restrictive nature of an internal network. One reason for people’s reluctance to pursue a discretionary network is that it requires a lot of time and energy, which may seem more logically focused on internal matters. However, by reaching outward, leaders set themselves up for opportunities to meet others who can help them in unique and unforeseen ways.
For example, by attending a meeting on company turnaround, a leader might meet an attorney whose focus and experience can help the business to operate in the red. The purpose of personal networking is to leverage your existing connections in order to generate a larger web with the potential for referrals to needed information and resources. How a leader capitalizes on and applies these resources is the focus of external networking.
Many leaders would do well to strengthen the efficiency of their operations, and several regularly excel in this area of personal networking. However, the area with the most room for improvement involves recognizing long-term priorities and the greatest challenges that a business faces, as well as addressing these issues with the help of external support. Such support might involve the backing and insight of shareholders, or it might hinge on analyzing the political climate in order to better understand those outside forces affecting the performance of a particular product or service.
The ultimate goal of networking is to move a business from an operational state to a strategically successful one by leveraging internal, personal, and external networking elements to their fullest. While there are many sophisticated techniques that can be used to reap the benefits of networking, the main thrust of the practice boils down to having a positive attitude about the social aspects of being a leader, picking up the phone and reaching out, as well as demonstrating a willingness to delegate responsibility in order to free up one’s time. Leaders can best position themselves and their companies for success by making these simple adjustments and diligently acting on them.