It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top – Forbes India | Region & Cash

It’s important to take a long look at how networking and building career-related connections can benefit a business leader over time. Image: Shutterstock

HNew leaders can develop networking skills and use them successfully
Five years after taking office as Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook conducted a lengthy, self-reflective interview with The Washington Post. In the candid chat, Cook discussed how Apple had changed at the beginning of his tenure at the helm, or how little it had changed.

Business leaders and executives around the world were intrigued to hear about life at Apple after Steve Jobs. Perhaps the most shared quote from this interview had to do with the need for networking.

It’s a lonely job. The adage that it’s lonely — the CEO job is lonely — is true in many ways.
Tim cook

Cook went on to talk about the importance of having smart people around you and around you, who reinforce what you’re good at and help you identify the parts you’re not.

Whether “people around you” means work colleagues or contacts around the world, it’s all about making the most of your networking skills. While one goal may be to minimize the loneliness of business leaders, successful networking helps build connections that can help keep your career on track for life.

Leadership from within your network

One of the most important, and perhaps most difficult, aspects of networking once you get to the top of your business is remembering that you are just one of many people on the network and everyone has a role to play. Networking and participating in your network is essential to making day-to-day connections as well as finding opportunities during the leadership transition.

Executives working in a connected organization or as part of a global business network need to feel comfortable as part of the team, not as its leader. That needs networking.

Networking can sound pretty simple, like something we’ve been doing since we made friends in the first few weeks of school. However, in the workplace it becomes much more demanding and requires skill.

The most successful leaders make networking look easy, but leadership networking is a skill that can be learned and improved.

3 Types of Networking for Executives

In Harvard Business Review’s “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” based on a study of 30 aspiring leaders, the authors outline three distinct forms of networking: operational, personal, and strategic.

Operational Network: These are individuals whose role is to fulfill current work duties and responsibilities. These are daily contacts for routine activities. This network includes management, direct reports, supervisors and key outsiders such as suppliers and customers. The purpose of this network is to get the job done efficiently. Not going beyond this network can engage a manager in technical and operational tasks.

Personal network: These are like-minded people outside of your own organization who can help with personal development. You may have met them through common interests or organizations – but their business acumen can help you succeed. Personal networks take on the role of coaching and mentoring, often providing important recommendations or resources. Thunderbird’s global network is a good example of a very beneficial business relationship that began as a personal connection.

Strategic network:
Strategic networking is about gaining the support of external contacts who can help you achieve your strategic business goals. The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to gather information, support and use resources from one sector of one network to achieve results in another. A well-aligned strategic network helps leaders realize benefits in their existing roles beyond what they can achieve with their operational network.

While active networking is important in all three areas, strategic networking is the most important form for a global leader. Remember that part of a leader’s job is to network or build social capital to organize resources and achieve organizational goals.

Also read: Well-connected entrepreneurs tend to stop expanding their networks

Who you know instead of what you know

You can’t spell networking without the word work. Many respondents in the Harvard study said they felt that networking and monitoring your network felt like an extra chore in an already busy career. Others found it difficult to connect with people on their networks who weren’t in the same industry.

Some leaders have found success by adding nuance to the network relationship and finding common ground beyond work. Others created common ground by inviting clients and colleagues to social networking events, theater, music, or volunteering.

It’s important to take the time to cultivate both personal relationships and online networks. With more than 750 million users, LinkedIn can be a helpful business networking tool. You can learn more about people in your network, and they can learn more about you on LinkedIn, but you have to make the effort and share resources and thoughtful opinions.

There are many other ways to network in online forums besides LinkedIn, but there is no substitute for the richness that comes with meeting in person and building relationships. Take the time to expand your existing network at in-person events in both your industry and others, and stay tuned. Once you’ve made initial contacts, it’s important to keep them alive.

Networking for the search for jobs or new employees

Leadership Networking is a powerful tool that will help you achieve the goals of your current organization. Successful networking can also help with transitions, including finding new jobs or finding new employees. Whatever the short-term goal, it’s important to take a long-term look at how networking and building career-related connections can benefit a business leader over time. You never know when an opportunity will arise, and it’s important that members of your network know how you can help them.

The Center for Creative Leadership guide outlines six network management rules for effective executive networking:

1. Be sincere: Networking isn’t just about what you get out of it. If you earn a reputation for not sharing information, misusing information, or breaking confidentiality, your networks may not want to work together.
2. Sharing resources: When you have resources like information, services, and access, you build your leadership network through give and take. Reciprocity is important.
3. Use power wisely: Power is the ability to get things done. You need three sources of power to build your network: your reputation, your alliances, and your profession. Be the leader who gets results, can be held accountable, and has connections to key influencers or decision makers.
4. Communicate skillfully: Communicate with people in your network in a way that makes them aware of your needs and your merits. Active listening is important. When you listen well, you gain a clear understanding of the perspective and knowledge of others. And you also get a glimpse of what messages they receive from you.
5. Negotiate effectively: Effective negotiators know when to push hard and when to back off; when to share information and when to hold back; when to trade resources and when to trade short-term results for a long-term goal.
6. Learn to manage conflict: When conflicts arise in your network, take the time to value opposing views. Look for points of mutual agreement and benefit. State your position in a way that helps resolve the conflict.

A strong leadership network will serve you and your company well, but it also extends beyond the job. When you have a good reputation in your network, you have the benefit of having a solid group of contacts who can act as your resources, whether you’re starting a job search or looking to add talent to your team.

Networking: Better Business, Better World

Once you’ve built a professional network, it’s time to think about what you really want to do with it. Building a quality network goes beyond a good address book. As your network grows, you will find that it advances your career and that of like-minded professionals around the world.

The reassurance of a good network is knowing that a contact will answer your call, be available to talk, introduce you, or offer you valuable advice. They will do this because they believe in you and because you have developed interpersonal relationships with your contacts.

As you build your network, think about what areas you need to work on and who might be able to help. Look for contacts who will tell you honestly about your strengths and weaknesses.

Turn to outliers who can help you see where you, your company, and your industry are going. And regularly reassess key members of your network to ensure you’re exposing yourself to a diverse, inclusive group of experts in your field and others. An interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary networking approach will open new doors and opportunities for you if you are looking for it.

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[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management]

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