An essential activity of every ambitious manager or leader is networking. Most leaders suck at strategic networking.
Research proves that successful leaders spend 70% móre time networking than their counterparts. Able to utilize extensive social networks makes leaders better informed, more creative, more productive, better problem-solvers, quick decision-makers and they get more support for their ideas and projects.
First, let's look at the definition of networking: "Creating a fabric of personal contacts to provide support, feedback, insight, and resources."
Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter identified three distinct forms of networks in their article How Leaders Create and Use Networks:
⬇️ Operational network: strong relationships with colleagues and key outsiders that help manage current internal responsibilities
⬇️ Personal network: the circle of kindred spirits you turn to for advice about personal development
⬇️ Strategic network: internal and external contacts that help tap into and capitalize on new opportunities for yourself and the organization.
The primary operational level consists of a network of direct reports, peers, suppliers and customers, distributors and other stakeholders. The purpose is straightforward: getting work done efficiently with people who have to know and trust one another to accomplish their immediate tasks. Relationships are directed by the organizational structure and constrained by current demands managed higher up in the food chain.
The secondary personal network is found in professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, conferences and personal interest communities. The purpose is to boost personal and professional development. Contacts provide necessary referrals, information, coaching, and mentoring. This safe space for personal growth can be the foundation for strategic networking when leaders learn how to bring those connections to support organizational strategy.
The ability to move to the strategic network - the highest level of networking maturity - is the crucial test of leadership. Effective leaders learn to use networks for strategic objectives. "This network plugs the aspiring leader into a set of relationships and information sources that collectively embody the power to achieve personal and organizational goals."
The benefits of building a strategic network that crosses all organizational and functional boundaries are plenty:
Many leaders perceive developing and nurturing relationships as a natural skill and an add-on, taking them away from their primary responsibilities. Growing a leadership network is a skill that can be trained and practiced as an integral part of a leader's responsibilities.
What is needed to network strategically?
Forming a trusted set of advisors and advocates demands a lot of time and effort. Consider using these shortcuts:
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