NetworkingMy Insight Experience colleague Rachel Halsall wrote a blog post in September of last year about networking. In "Reclaiming the Power of Networking," posted here at our blog, Insightful Ideas, Rachel discussed the value of internal and external networking and the range of diverse perspectives it can bring to one's work:

"In my experience, networking — a term that many of us dislike and even fear — can be the fastest and most enjoyable way to obtain and share useful information with the good people with whom we work."

As Rachel, an ICF-accredited coach, has shared with me and my fellow partners here at Insight Experience, networking is a critical business development tool. Network partners can help introduce you to others in their organizations who might need your services and/or products. Rachel's informative post included her own list of useful networking tips — avoid distractions ("please put your phone down") and truly engage with the other person was but one suggestion — and it prompted me to think about my own experiences with professional relationships and which tips I would share with leaders. Here are some:

  1. Don’t be afraid! Many people are reluctant to network because they think they are imposing on the people with whom they are connecting or they consider it a political activity. In my experience, people like to help others and, time permitting, are exceptionally willing to meet and share experiences, ideas, and advice. I personally derive great satisfaction in connecting people with others. I do not consider it an imposition when people want to network with me or seek advice.
  2. Be consistent. It's important to establish regular check-ins with your network contacts, particularly those with whom you partner or to whom you provide services. As an example, I have a quarterly meeting with the division manager of one of our most frequent clients. He leads a learning and development team of several hundred employees who provide technical and leadership training to his company’s global distribution partners. It is a huge, time-intensive job, yet he finds time to meet with me. During our meetings, we provide updates to one another about what’s happening at our respective companies. I do my part by keeping him informed about our business and our offerings and, in turn, he:
    • Provides me with valuable updates on his company's strategy and key initiatives.
    • Suggests people I should know or contact at his business, those who can discuss future opportunities and who are interested in the leadership development training we provide.
    • Promotes our offerings and mobilizes his company's resources to do the same.
  3. Don’t wait for a need. Consistent networking and curiosity can lead to long and lasting relationships. These relationships can be further deepened by reaching out to your network when you don’t have an ostensible need from others — but simply want to check in with them. This reflects that you are not thinking about them on a quid pro quo basis, as if you want something in return. One helpful technique is to share information with them in which they might be interested — a newspaper or magazine article, a website, a blog post, and so forth.
  4. Be curious. I believe it's important to be deliberate in attempting to make a personal connection with my network contacts. Do they have family? If so, how is their family doing? Do they have special interests that may be common to mine? Do they like to travel? Do they like sports? Music? Not only do I genuinely enjoy learning about the people with whom I collaborate and network, but it also creates a level of platonic, professional intimacy, which can go far in building trust in a relationship.

Networking helps build your understanding of client organizations and who’s who within them. And it can lead to valuable, deep, and long-lasting relationships throughout one's career; networking, after all, is about creating connection. Be willing to put yourself out there, build those connections, and expand your network. It is an essential skill for both rising and experienced leaders.



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