Grow, Nurture, Manage and Leverage.

Demystifying the Elements of Networking.

The veracity of the statement, “Your network is more valuable than your net worth” resonates these days! Last week my C-IQ® sister and colleague Lyn Christian saw their book published (beating out Oprah in a category on Amazon!). I was quite invested in helping Lyn spread the word about this brilliant piece of work. I’ve also been waxing nostalgic about DRIVEN’s decade-long, winding journey to the present. And I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve met along the way.

The irony, upon reflection, is that my relationship with networking has evolved seismically since 2008, when I attended my first formal networking event. I viscerally remember my profound anxiety the night before the event— like the new kid starting school. That anxiety remained for years to come.

Today, I spend about a third of my time nourishing myself with my network!

If the concept of networking is elusive to you, perhaps my experiences with perceived networking obstacles can guide you in the way they have guided my clients. After all, as a coach, I’m ALWAYS my own best client!

One undeniable obstacle I encountered all of those years ago is exhaustion. In hindsight, of course attending networking events was draining! What most of us call “networking” occurs in an environment designed for extroverts to thrive and introverts to wilt. You see, introverts recharge our personal energy by being alone. Extroverts are energized by being amongst others; networking is their oxygen.

The good news is that networking is much, much more than entering an anonymous conference room, making small talk with ‘strangers’, sipping mediocre Chardonnay from plastic glasses, and leaving with a stack of business cards. Networking in its true form is developing relationships.

Sure, some of your network colleagues will invariably be potential sources of business and ‘champions’ in positions of influence (a.k.a. the table pounders, who will be key in your next promotion). Over time, you’ll begin to recognize your network as a potential source of education, information, wisdom, support, camaraderie and friendship.

I now describe networking as a four-phase process: Growing, nurturing, managing and leveraging are all essential network maintenance tasks. In a nutshell, once you meet someone who sparks your interest or who could potentially contribute to your future success, you get to nurture this relationship. Easier said than done? Not necessarily.

Keep in mind that networking is a give-and-take proposition. So, nurturing your network begins by understanding your network colleagues’ aspirations and challenges, including their goals and their perceptions of what stands in their way. How can you be of service to these folks?

And as you may have suspected, listening is fundamental to effective networking….perfect for introverts, who can be great listeners!

Besides trying to survive traditional networking events, there are other networking difficulties my clients are faced with. Let me share a misconception and two challenges with you.

Time is NOT on my side.

If you believe you’re too busy to network, I invite you to consider a slight reframe. Networking is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things you can do for your career.

The hidden challenge is that networking seldom seems terribly urgent. Last minute hiccups, perceived crises, and the headspace of ‘busy’ all lead to networking falling off your to-do list.

Consider these four simple but effective ideas to squeeze networking back in:

  1. Create actual networking appointments on your calendar. Start with two 30-minute networking calendar invitations to yourself each week. 
  2. Use these time spans to reach out to people who are network nurture-worthy— either sources of business or inspirers.
  3. Begin to populate some of these 30-minute spans with colleague coffee dates, video catchup chats, or walk-around-the-parking-lot dates.
  4. Consider who you’ll want to set up recurring meetings/phone calls/coffee dates with.

How do I get to know leaders in my organization?

You may want to meet some leaders at your company, but which ones? And how?

Take a moment and bring to mind someone in your organization you admire. Whose leadership style, executive presence or organizational skills do you want to emulate? It’s best to choose someone who’s in your sphere (i.e.: not the President of your Fortune 500 organization).

Now, compose a two-sentence email suggesting a coffee or chat. Let them know you’re committed to expanding your internal network. Or tell this person they’re someone you admire and you’re curious to learn about their part of the business, their challenges and their rewards.

Close the message by suggesting that if they’re willing, they can offer three dates/times and you’ll make it work.

The leader says “yes” to your request. Now what?

Another source of anxiety motivated professionals face is when the leader agrees to meet. “What will I say? I don’t have anything to bring to the table.” My advice: Don’t “say”. Just ask. Get curious. Play the role of the listener.

After a few minutes of initial small talk, you can start off with a question, preferably one about THEM. Think about it: Who doesn’t love talking about themselves?

My favorite questions to pose to business folks are about the proudest moments in their role and how they’ve managed great challenges. As you listen to their answers, what are you curious about? Stay in discovery mode; there’s so much to learn about each person you meet. Their responses will help you gain insights about their values, priorities and aspirations.

And while you’re thinking about it, have you considered the answers to these very questions for yourself? This will set you up to share the details if the leader with whom you’re engaging asks you about YOU.

Once you understand one person’s story, you know ONE person’s story. There’s so much more to learn. This is the most exciting part of networking!

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