“The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.” – James Kouzes & Barry Posner
Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We are people who need people and not just people to follow us around because we are the leader. We need people to walk ahead of us and beside us and with us. My recent research on leadership skills development indicated that successful leaders maintain a broad network of professional relationships. Effective leaders look beyond themselves and establish a wide variety of relationships with assorted influencers.
My husband is a natural at networking. Give him an hour in a room and he will know the names of half the people in the room and have made lunch arrangements with most of those. My approach is a little different, but it works well for my style. Networking is simply getting to know people and building relationships. Everyone has the ability to do that and, with the right perspective, I believe most may even find it fun. Whether you are a natural at networking or you need a little encouragement to start down that path, these tips can guide your steps:
Be Curious – Networking is simply meeting a variety of people and getting to know them. Stay curious and open your mind to the different people around you at work, across your organization, at conferences, in classes, etc. Take a genuine interest in their stories. You may find that you actually enjoy this, and you will definitely make valuable professional relationships.
Be Authentic – You can only be you. If you try to be anyone else, it will be obvious and it is not a good start to any relationship. It may be tempting to inflate your accomplishments or knowledge level when meeting someone further along in the leadership journey. Resist that temptation. The best senior leaders relish the opportunity to share stories and impart wisdom to those still along the path. Feel free to ask their input and allow them to share their expertise.
Be Willing – The time to start is now. Building professional relationships takes time, but it is time well spent. One conversation may not lead to your next promotion, but you never know where it will lead without engaging in it. Prepare a list of people you’d like to get to know better and invite one of them to coffee. Make a game of gathering business cards or contact information at your next conference. If it’s good enough for Nike, it’s good enough for you – just do it!
A strategic network of mixed relationships sparks innovation and creativity, reinforces decision-making skills, and supports future organizational growth. Providing a diverse look at leadership styles through a mixed group of professional relationships can play an integral role in your leadership success. Without exception, if you are a mid-level leader or just beginning the leadership journey, establishing a broad professional network is invaluable to your career. We cannot lead alone. Building a broad network of professional relationships ensures that we don’t have to.