The Secrets to Starting to Build Your Network as You Become a Leader

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Your network becomes more important and valuable to you when you become a leader in your organization. It often becomes the way that you get things done. As we know, taking on a more senior role oftentimes means that you are assuming more responsibility as well as having greater impact on those within your organization. For these reasons building a network as you grow professionally that supports your success becomes paramount. It becomes not about how you solely get things done or how you give specific direction to make things happen. It becomes about how you are truly working through others to achieve the mission and purpose of your organization and your career. How you are partnering with individuals within your organization inclusive of key internal stakeholders and external partners becomes of great value and meaning to you in which your network plays a major role.

In order to prepare to serve in a position of more influence and impact you should start building your network and networking with the appropriate individuals well before you get to the point that you need such a network. Preparation is key, but many of us wait just before we are about to assume such a role or are actually in the role which is too late. Such delay means that you work extra hard to build your leadership network and run the risk of never having the right network. So the inherent lesson in this is not to wait. The time is to start building your network is as soon as you can see yourself evolving into a leadership role. You do not have to wait until someone in your organization anoints you or communicates this to you as a result of succession planning or a career discussion with you. You should take the initiative and prepare to build a network that will help aide in your success long-term whether you move into a leadership role or not. At a minimum you will signal to your current organization that you view yourself as a future leader. If they are unable to see it, then you know what you need to do. But if you depart, you will have a network that will go with you and even support you in your new role or organization.

So, here are some basic tips to get you started in building your leadership network that I have seen successful individuals do which will hopefully enable your success as well:

Observe How Leaders in Your Organization Navigate and Connect with Other Leaders

Often observing other individuals that are leaders or in leadership positions is the best way to see and learn how they are navigating through your company. You observe and learn what helps them to be successful and what hinders them. It also allows you also to determine what leaders you will hopefully partner with or need to partner with as you develop your network.

Focus Early On the Outcomes That You Want To Achieve As You Build Your Network as a Leader

Many of us spend time on who is in our network, how big is our network or what our network can do for us. It is more important to think about the outcomes you want and finding or building a network comprised of individuals to support you in helping you to achieve those results. Just having a network comprised of connections that serve no purpose except that you know one another does not currently nor will later aide you in your success either professionally or with any business outcomes.

Cultivate Relationships Across Groups and Functions Outside of Yours

Leaders are known for being able to do this. It is expected. Leaders often have to do this because the tasks that they are often given span the need to enroll multiple groups and varied individuals. They have no choice but to mobilize commitment and create shared ownership to achieve a lofty goal. The relationships that they establish and nurture outside their area or function become important and often necessary. Many times if leaders don’t do this, they fail.

Ensure That You Develop and Maintain Different Types of Networks Externally

Savvy leaders know the importance of having multiple networks within as well as outside their organization. One network does not serve all your needs nor will help you achieve your goals as a leader. Understand that it is equally important to have partners and relationships within your organization as well as the same type of professionals, thought leaders and stakeholders outside of your organization for your network. This means belonging to or joining other professional groups or associations where they are. Don’t let building your internal network be your only focus to move you ahead or support you in your career.

Being a leader is a responsibility that requires you to enroll and engage many. No time like the present to develop the right network to do this. So if you see yourself as a future leader in your for-profit, nonprofit or governmental role, then get started! Build a leadership network that works for you.

I am Francine Parham. I publically speak, write and advise individuals about their professional development. I believe and support individuals in making the right connections to achieve their professional and personal goals. Reach out to me at email@francineparham.com .

Flickr Photo by Jairoagua

Doing Double Duty At Work: Building Your Professional Network and Your Career

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In my last post I wrote about the responsibility of the leader in helping his/her employees in making the right internal and/or external network connections to achieve the company’s goals or the employee’s professional goals. Now I would like to engage those of you that describe yourself as the employee. You too know who you are as well. First of all let me say that this is about shared accountability. The leader still does not get a pass, but neither does the employee. It takes a minimum of two individuals to make something work. This is especially true when it relates to the importance of assisting someone in the achievement of their organizational and/or professional goals.

We are often told that we need to work hard. That it’s hard work that will make us successful. As I’ve stated in the past and will state until I can do no more (like as in my death), if that was the secret to success, there would be so many successful people in the workplace, the issue would become what to do with all of them. Hard work is only a piece of the equation. In my thinking about this topic a great deal, I’m not even going to surmise that it is even half the equation. Why? Hard work demonstrates that you have the desire and willingness to do something or take on a task and work diligently at getting it accomplished. It does not mean that because you take it on, work hard at it, that you will be successful in achieving the intended outcome – your goal. I’ve worked hard at many things, but didn’t necessarily achieve the goal, if at all. And we’ve all seen people in our professional as well as personal lives that didn’t work hard but became very successful. How we often describe their success is that they were lucky, in the right place at the right time or knew the right people. I can’t speak to luck, but they probably were in the right place at the right time and they did know the right people. We often speak of these things with disdain because we all want to believe that hard work will get us to where we want to be or how success is defined. I learned a long time ago that the playing field is not level and the work environment is not a meritocracy and most importantly, you can’t rely on hard work alone to take you to where you ultimately want to go in your career. If that was the case, once again there would be a lot more “successful people” at the office. I fundamentally believe that no one comes to work every day and says, “Let me see how I can do absolutely nothing and be successful.”

So, how do you at least increase your odds of being successful as defined by your work environment or the organization that you work for as an employee?

DO YOUR JOB (DO IT VERY WELL BY THE WAY) AND BUILD YOUR NETWORK AT THE SAME TIME.

One does not work without the other. You can work very hard and no one knows you or what you do. You just become known and defined as a “hard worker”. You can only focus on your network or building relationships in which you eventually become known as a “smoozer”. Or as you become more senior in your career, you become known as a dear friend of mine often refers to such individuals as, an “empty suit”. Whatever you call them; we’ve all seen them and know what they look like at work, but more importantly what they do which is usually nothing of substance. None of us want that title, I’m sure of that.

For those of you starting your career or even if you are switching to a new job or field, I cannot stress enough that the sooner you begin building your network as well as networking, the better. When I first began my career, I was told to demonstrate that I worthy of being hired. I was also told to work really, really hard at my job. I did that but no one also said as you meet people along the way take time to develop the appropriate business relationships. I failed to build my network as I was going along that journey. This made it much harder when I wanted to achieve something for the organization better yet for my career. It finally dawned on me when I was in the midpoint of my career that something was missing. That’s when the relationships became super important. My ability to achieve and meet the goals and objectives of the organization had been demonstrated time and time again which became a given. But I had no network although I did as much networking as the next person. I discovered that I really had to do “super double duty” as I had lost a lot of time. Let me tell you, it was challenging.

See building your network is cumulative just as building your career. You don’t all of a sudden become good at doing either one without some practice and experience, which occurs over time. The challenge is that we often focus so much on our career that when it becomes time to leverage our network, we have nothing. We figure out that we need relationships beyond just getting the work task done. So we then decide it’s is time to REALLY start networking, the verb. We network very hard, but become frustrated because we discover our actions yield us nothing. Then we declare that networking is not worthwhile. Well you are right. It is not worthwhile when you approach it in that manner. The time to build your network is not when you have a need; are in trouble or; want something to change in your professional or even personal life. Building your network and networking should have started before you needed it. So when you do have a need your network it is ready to fall into action. Better yet those in your network know this and bring opportunities to you. Wouldn’t it be great to have a network that works for you versus you always having to work your network? A network that brings opportunities to you because they know who you are and you have developed relationships with such individuals just as you have built your career.

So by now, I hope I’ve convinced you that you need to do both tasks – build your career and build your network simultaneously. You realize its value and importance. But I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few thoughts that I call, “The Rules of Double Duty Engagement”. I learned these and hopefully they will assist you.

DOUBLE DUTY RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

1. No work contact is a bad contact. You don’t have to go through your professional life (personal either) developing deep meaningful relationships. Our lives at work are not geared that way as time is always a factor and let’s not forget that the organization is expecting you to deliver results. There will be some deep relationships that you develop and many that you won’t. In your network, that’s really ok. It’s ok to have loose connections. But take the time to figure out which ones should be loose and which ones should be deep. Consciously decide to what degree you want to engage with certain members in your network, don’t leave it to chance.

2. Always take notice of who is behind the scenes. Many times we get caught up in the title or the level of influence we believe that a person has in an organization. Be mindful of such things. Yes, thinking about level is important, but don’t let it get in the way. Where the power and influence usually lies is not in that person or that person alone. Oftentimes, there are a whole cast of characters behind the scenes that make things happen for that influential individual. Get to know them just as well or even better as they will more than likely be the ones making it happen or can make it happen for you. Invite them into your network. Such individuals are key players and are often even instrumental to you connecting or developing a relationship with that influential person. They are often the trusted advisors. What do you want them to say about you when the influential person asks?

3. Make your professional network diverse – keep yourself connected to multiple groups and outlets. Many of us work for great organizations and many of us work for some that are not so great. Either way, we spend a lot of time at work and it does have a way of absorbing us. It sometimes becomes a situation in which our network is only comprised of those that we know at work. Such a situation can be disastrous especially if something changes like the loss of a job, the need or just desire to get another job or go into another profession. Your professional network should be comprised of people you work with; those that have the same professional interest as you but are outside of your company as well as; individuals or groups that you have a pure interest in being a part of for your personal self-development.

Once again the time to develop your network is not when you need it and it builds over time. It may appear cumbersome having to develop you career and your network, but it’s a reality and it pays off. Please get started if you haven’t already!

I am Francine Parham. I speak publically, write and have created Maximizing Your Network! ™, which shows individuals how to plan for, take action and maintain their professional networks. I am also the CEO and Founder of my professional development company, PurposefulConnections. I believe and support individuals in making the right connections to achieve their professional and personal goals. Reach out to me at email@francineparham.com

Hey Leader: What’s Your Responsibility in Connecting Your Employees?

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I want to talk to the leaders out there that have the title of CEO, President, Vice President or Executive Director as examples. This is any title that denotes that you have a level of responsibility in which you have significant impact (financial or non-financial) within your company and on its people. This is applicable for those of you that are leaders in for-profit as well as nonprofit organizations, the government, even those of you that identify yourselves as entrepreneurs. In a few simple words, “you know who you are.” I was also one of you.

I have one question to ask for you to think about:

“How you do you hold yourself accountable for creating and leading an organization in which you actively help your employees make the right internal and/or external network connections to achieve the company’s goals and/or their professional goals?”

Before I go any further let me clarify, I am not just talking about you as a leader holding your team accountable or the managers that report into you to make this happen. I am not talking about how you pull teams together or assign individuals to work on certain initiatives. And let’s not toss this to the Human Resources function to answer, by saying that “I partner with my HR leader and his/her team. “ That’s an easy and too obvious answer. I am asking the question directly focused on you as the individual and what you personally do and are accountable for, not through others.

There is tons of information to be found about the power of one’s network within an organization. We know that those who leverage their networks are much more successful than those that do not especially within organizations. Research has proven that aspect. There are tools and resources that assess what organizational or even more recently, what individual networks look like within an organization. There is also general information tailored to the individual that focuses on building and/or maintaining their various networks in whatever situation or environment (work, professional or otherwise) they happen to be in or a part of. They are given advice on networking and what you should do in certain situations to establish and nurture relationships. All of this guidance typically manifests itself in “how to” or “you should” that a person can use. From an organizational perspective such advice is akin to the old adage we’ve all heard, “you own your career.” The same rule appears to apply, “you own your network”. In other words, you as an individual have the responsibility to navigate and define your own destiny inclusive of your organizational network.

All this sounds great and empowering. There is obviously nothing wrong with that perspective as we all want to control our own destiny and should strive to do so. But within an organization our destiny is not just left up to us as individuals. This is a fact and a reality. Careers are not just left up to the employee and neither is their network within their company. There is another part of the equation often not discussed, but vital and related to an employee’s success with their organizational network – the role of their leadership. Simply stated, leaders play an instrumental role in connecting their employees with others, internally as well as externally; knowing who the appropriate connectors are and; what skills such individuals hold. All leaders also play a huge role in setting this as an expectation for others in their organizations irrespective of level and in creating such a culture.

What is interesting is that there is not much if any discussion or little reference about the critical role a leader plays in organizational networks and ensuring those important connections occur. One of the responsibilities that a leader has within an organization to serve or facilitate in this capacity cannot be emphasized enough. As we know this oftentimes is the difference between success or failure related to an organizational outcome or that of an employee’s success.

I don’t think that we have to wait for a study to be done or for an authority on organizational culture or human networks to write a book. It’s a matter of taking action, ensuring you are holding yourself accountable and beginning to see the results in your organization. It is not hard but sometimes not as obvious. More than likely, you did not reach your level of achievement by yourself. Many helped and many connections were made for you.

So, start by asking yourself a few simple questions to assess where you are and the actions that you hopefully taking to successfully help others:

How am I as a leader actively connecting others within my organization?

Do I wait to be asked or am I taking the initiative to serve as the bridge to helping an employee achieve his/her organizational or professional goals?

Am I serving as a model for others to see in the organization the importance and value of serving in such a capacity?

Do I expect and hold not only myself but others in my organization accountable to serve as organizational bridges and connectors?

Imagine seeking out an employee in your organization and introducing them to someone that could make a difference in work that they are doing without being asked. By this I don’t mean letting the person jump on your calendar, you giving them 20-30 minutes and you rattling off a list of people they should go meet. By doing such action usually it only results in the employee being sent off to tell those on the list that they were sent by you. Then they struggle to get on a new set of calendars. How about you as the leader really making the appropriate introduction(s) beforehand? The introductions you make can allow the employee to cut through such challenges and begin the conversation. Obviously by doing this you will have cleared the path for that person which is one of your roles as a leader in an organization.

Have you ever thought of asking someone to be a part of your network versus you always being asked? I understand that you are busy, this could be risky or what message would you be sending to the organization? In my opinion, it would be a good message. That’s why they call you “the leader” and you’re sometimes called to take risks; taking risks on your people is not excluded. So don’t forget to assess your own network to see if you have any opportunities to invite someone to join you that maybe much junior than you. They may bring a whole new perspective to the way you think or your network in general. This is not reverse mentoring or sponsoring someone, but inviting them to be a part of your network because of their skill or perspective that they can bring to you to help you lead better or develop in your own career. Being senior in an organization does not denote that you know or have it all. The world is changing. The skills we need are always evolving. What we did well a few years ago may have no value in the present. Ensure your own network lends you the support you need to achieve your professional goals or otherwise.

I have heard so many times and also believe that the people in any organization are its greatest asset. Are you as a leader not responsible for creating a culture that lends itself to not only helping but ensuring your talent reaches and realizes its fullest potential? If so, then take the first step by actively connecting them with those within your organization and outside that can truly aide them in accomplishing their goals or establishing/maintaining their network. Hopefully by seeing your actions they will pay it forward and before you know it everyone in your organization will be taking on this responsibility.

Please share with the LinkedIn community and myself what you are doing as a leader to bridge or connect others. If you are within an organization and you have witnessed or been a part of such an experience, please share as well. I welcome the comments and perspectives of all.

I am Francine Parham. I publically speak, write and am the CEO and Founder of my professional development company, PurposefulConnections. I believe and support individuals in making the right connections to achieve their professional and personal goals. Reach out to me at email@francineparham.com

Photo by Flickr: EASTCOBBERMagazine