Your Business May Only Be As Strong As The Connections You Make
If you think networking is about the number of Facebook friends and LinkedIn followers one has, then it is time to revisit your professional and organisational branding strategy.
Though many of us have ambitions to move up the career ranks, most fall short in creating a professional edge that sets us apart. The question to ask is this:
What makes you different in the sea of equally intelligent, equally ambitious, highly skilled and talented individuals?
Unfortunately for most leaders, networking has become an afterthought and that thing you leave to the end of the to-do list, only to be visited when you do not have a choice or when you realise the lack of sign-ups for the upcoming sales event for which you are responsible.
The scenario is far too common in most organisations today – we are all juggling roles and responsibilities that are becoming more complicated and ever-demanding of our effort and time. It is extremely easy then to get lost in transactional, rather than transformational, activities.
This could be a potentially fatal mistake, both at an individual and organisational level, yet the lack of networking skills among leaders is truly understandable.
Businesses are operating at breakneck speed, more partnerships are being forged between different industries, with demands of solutions and products on-the-go becoming the new norm.
With the right lighting, even air pollution can look beautiful.
It is no surprise then that the enterprises of today are increasingly complex and tougher to manage and lead. There is so much to do and so little time.
On the other hand, most managers are typically promoted based on their technical capabilities on the job and the ability to accomplish objectives that are mostly functional.
The strategic focus and relationship-building spheres are often left to the handful of leaders right at the top.
By practising this over and over again, organisations neither leverage on broader networks of connections to get things done, nor do they develop their leaders to build better internal and external relationships that may benefit in the long term.
Let’s take a step back and think about why leadership networking is important in the first place.
A well-known fact is that more than half of what you know is really about who you know.
Once organisations get past the “busy-ness” of doing business, the realisation sinks in on the most pivotal question of “What should we be doing instead?”
Having a strong leadership network, especially with people outside of your immediate control, means that leaders are able to fully grasp the ins-and-outs of the organisation, assemble the right group of people and then seek to deliver the desired results.
Having great networking skills allows leaders to create a set of relationships and data sources that they can tap into, at the right time.
It often becomes a strategic lifeline that empowers organisations to keep up with business demands and overcome multiple challenges.
Businesses lacking a positive deposit into their social networking bank often lose out when crucial decisions are not made in time due to lack of information, when conflicts happen as a result of overall company silos and when there is a need to build a coalition through tough times.
Mastering the art of networking can be intimidating at first but, as a leader, it is one of the most important skills that you should have today.
Think of this, done hundreds of times over.
Here are three ways to begin the process towards better networking.
Change your mindset from 'do later' to 'do it now'
The first step is always the hardest and yet there must be an increased level of intentional effort in getting rid of the initial mind-block. While it may be outside one’s comfort zone, leaders must begin by moving networking high up onto their list of to-do’s.
Learn to leverage on your team and delegate work so that a big chunk of your week can be spent making and fostering business connections. Most importantly, do it sincerely.
It is not difficult to weed out the desperate, unethical and crafty attempts at wanting to know someone solely for your needs. Seek connections in a manner that spells YOU. Perhaps your management style is to connect at a personal, one-on-one level.
In this case, send someone else for the bigger conferences and networking events. Make calls and set up that breakfast catch-up over a cup of coffee. People appreciate the smaller gestures – something that we all easily undervalue.
If it is perceived as important, you will allocate the needed time and effort to make it work. Through this shift towards strategic thinking, as a leader, you will leverage every business trip, branch visit and even flight transits as an opportunity to connect and build stronger relationships.
Sometimes, it is as easy as just asking.
The best networkers out there do not wait until the next high-profile conference happens or when they have a make-or-break sales opportunity. The act of networking must be the outcome of your natural desire to give to your network, as much as you want to receive from it.
It is often as easy as taking the initiative to first connect through a networking database such as LinkedIn, for example, and dropping a personal note introducing yourself.
You may face a couple of rejections, not surprising even if you are a senior leader.
That aside, if you have never paid attention to networking before, then it is just as important to start by doing something simple.
Make a list of connections you would like to have, and begin by just asking them and stating your desire. The outcomes may very well be desirable to you.
Stay on-track, even if it takes time.
Let’s be honest, networking is far from easy. It takes a lot of time and continuous effort. It is important to acknowledge this fact and stick to a routine of consistently reaching out to people, no matter how tedious it gets.
It is a task that can easily be given up, especially when reaching out to people is not part of your natural inclination and you would rather focus your time on the daily work that matters. It is really crucial to set aside some time to be deliberate about networking.
Dedicate a fraction of your work week towards your preferred style of networking. Perhaps you would like to start your mornings by routinely sending birthday greetings. Or you prefer doing a round of golf or tennis with your contact.
Regardless, stick to it until it becomes a habit that you no longer shrug off.
Take a look around. Your peers and business competitors are either on par, catching up or are ahead of you in terms of growth, track record and overall intelligence and capability.
What should set you apart is your ability and effort in building and managing the sophisticated web of relationships and networks across boundaries that eventually come together as your strategic alliance in fool-proofing the survival of your leadership and organisation.