How leaders create and use networks

Networks have always been important in getting things done – at the business and the personal level. Leveraging who you know or their inputs, suggestions, referrals etc play an important role in life, whether one likes it or not. Some of us might not be too comfortable with this, thinking of it as using people for personal gain. But such a line of thinking might be a grave mistake, especially when in a leadership position.  

A report by 2 INSEAD professors Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter, published in the Harvard Business Review, proposed that the thing that really separated successful leaders from the rest was effective networking. Without nurturing and optimizing their networks, leaders can often find themselves being disconnected from their organizations.

For 2 years they followed 30 managers who were at a point of a transitional leap in their career, and found that networking – building a collection of personal contacts who will provide feedback, information, insight and support was very important for success.

Based on this study, they defined three types of networking operational, personal and strategic – each with it’s own purpose.

Operational networking involves creating stronger relationships with people or colleagues necessary to get your work done effectively. This is usually the easiest and most acceptable type.

Personal networking involves engaging with people sympathetic and helpful in your efforts for learning and advancement.

Strategic networking is about establishing a network of individuals who will help you uncover new opportunities for business and organisational goals.

Each of these three types are important in their position, but mastering Strategic Networking is critical for real success. Unfortunately this is the type of networking we typically forget to cultivate.  

So as a leader, it is important that you understand and leverage all three types of networks, not just the first two, to get the maximum benefit of networking. Understand and accept that networking is an essential aspect of leadership.

Create opportunities to interact and meet with people outside your immediate circle. But most importantly, remember that networking is not about taking help when you need it. It is about building mutually beneficial relationships that will support you over time i.e. it is about giving as much as it can be about receiving!

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