Networking. Does just the mention of the word recall painstaking coffee chit chats, cocktail receptions, and sticky name badges that never stay put? If it does, you’re right up there with the vast majority of the population. According to the experts though, you are also significantly missing out.
A recent whitepaper published by Women of Influence found seven pitfalls for women in business. In speaking with 2000 female senior executives, they found that the most successful ones were able to combat many of these pitfalls including strategic networking. Essentially these women have realized that networking is really worth it. They also found that women are natural networkers, but forget the strategic side of it.
The good news is that women tend to be wired for connection and relationships.
We have the skills to build strong networks. The bad news is that we tend to develop and leverage them more for social and support reasons. Can you find someone in a pinch to recommend a good babysitter or nursing home? Do you have a book or running club? A good shoulder to lean on when things go wrong? Then ask yourself, do I have a strong mentor or personal advisory group to advance my career? Do I have connections with people in other business lines or geographies to understand how my priorities intersect across the broader enterprise? Do I know what my counterparts at the competition are doing to handle the same challenges I have?
In my work with female leaders, I see two key misconceptions that prevent the activity of networking from being strategic.
Networking is a nebulous time suck.
No one has endless time to network, but every leader needs relationships in 3 key areas. Do you need to strengthen your Operational network to be more effective and efficient at getting work done? Would you benefit from a broader Future Focused network to keep on top of the impact of broad strategic issues within your organization and industry? Could you develop more, or advance faster with a stronger Career network? Of course you could. I find most women are strong in the first type of network, mixed in the second, and dreadful in the third. So start by being deliberate about which network you need to build out now and get focused on building relationships for those purposes.
I have a ‘home’ network and a ‘work’ network and never the two shall meet.
Do you have a fear of worlds colliding? I fell into this trap many years ago while on maternity leave. I met a great group of women in my neighborhood. We exercised together, laughed together and essentially kept each other sane. We got to know each other like sisters. Or so we thought. I returned to work and was facilitating a senior leadership program with a very important customer. Imagine my surprise when one of the mommy group members walked in the room. None of us really knew what we did outside of being a mom. We didn’t want our worlds to collide. But it doesn’t work like that. We need to be curious about people; really curious about who we are at work and at home. Strategic networks are full of people who may intersect at any point.
So remember, networking is more than an event. It’s an approach to building the relationships and connections you need to be successful.