A woman in a CCL leadership program bristled at the idea of strategic networking: “It’s self-serving and political — and not who I am.” She is not alone in her reaction.
“Many women resist networking,” says CCL’s Laura Santana. “The problem is that a network left to chance is not the network you need.”
Ignoring networks can damage or limit your career and leadership effectiveness — this is true for both men and women. The right relationships and ties are known to be an asset in getting access to information, earning promotions, and gaining opportunities. Effective leaders rely on key networks and trusted partners to get results.
A McKinsey study found that 50% of a company’s intellectual capital is a “relational asset” and 75% of individual capital is their relationships.
And leaders with the right kinds of networks are likely to be high performers, according to Rob Cross, a professor at the University of Virginia who has studied networks and their role in workplace effectiveness.
But even if they know that building the right networks is important, many women struggle with it.
“It may be that women are hardwired toward deeper, more personal connections, so transactional relationships seem insincere,” says Santana, referring to the thinking of some evolutionary biologists.
So, if networking goes against your natural tendencies, you have some work to do.
1. Know the myths. Creating the right network is not about maintaining a big, expansive network or schmoozing with the boss or the boss’s boss. What negative — and false — ideas do you have about networking?
- MYTH: Networking is insincere and manipulative.
- MYTH: Networking is only about politics and getting ahead.
- MYTH: Networking is done when all of the “real work” is done.
- MYTH: Networking is about how many contacts you have.
- MYTH: Networking is for extroverts.
2. Understand your network structure. Take time to list or map out your network. Think about both the structure of the network: Are relationships operational, personal or strategic? Close or distant? Trusting and mutually beneficial? Superficial and one-sided? Vertically diverse? Is your network heavy with people who are similar to you or to each other? Do they all know each other? Is your network outdated, just because it’s easier to avoid networking?
3. Think in terms of resources. What kind of resources do you need to do your job, have influence and advance your career? Who in your network has those resources? What resources do you need access to but have no one in your network to help you? Start with what you need most from your network right now. Then, consider what will you need down the road. One tip: for women, finding a sponsor — a senior manager with influence who will advocate to get you promoted — can be a challenge. Make this a networking goal.
4. Develop your network by building, maintaining, leveraging, and transitioning relationships. Strengthening your network doesn’t happen overnight. But once you are clear what kind of network is needed, you can begin by providing others value before you need resources. You can make choices now to build relationships that have value for the long term.
Certainly, you can grow your network by attending formal networking activities and large events. But also think of how to embed networking into daily work, such as volunteering for a new project, scheduling one-on-one meetings, asking connections for introductions or acting as a mentor. Socializing outside of work, having lunch with people not in your “inner circle,” and referring a person to someone else — being a connector — are all good options.
“Building the right network is key to leading effectively, getting results and developing your career,” says Santana. “You can learn how to do it and be genuine at the same time.”
Leaders participating in CCL’s Women’s Leadership Experience learn to understand their network biases, enhance their network with peers, and begin to build the partnerships, relationships, and ties that matter most.