Talent, focus and drive are three attributes that are needed to successfully climb the corporate ladder, but it’s also important to have a strong network, and the best way to make those valuable contacts is through networking.
A Harvard Business Review article authored by Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter, “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” identified three different types of networking:
- Operational—contacts made within an organization while working proficiently
- Personal—contacts who enhance personal or professional development and reflect current and potential interests
- Strategic—contacts who can support future priorities and challenges, including stakeholders inside and outside of an organization
As a business performance coach, I believe employing all these networking approaches can be invaluable, especially if you seek to move from a managerial role to a position as a top leader. Tactical networking (operational) is a great way to create relationships and give back to those you believe can help you get ahead, while purposeful networking (strategic) has a broader focus and a more long-term objective.
Consider every event you attend to be an opportunity for networking, but have a strategy; don’t just walk around collecting and doling out business cards. If possible, identify one or two individuals as targets, or as an alternative, set a goal for the number of quality connections you wish to make. Be sure to follow up with those you wish to cultivate as members of your network.
One great way to initiate a relationship with someone who’s higher up on the totem pole than you are is to ask that person to be a mentor, or a type of performance coach. Most people will be quite flattered by this request and happy to oblige. Choose someone with whom you have an intellectual connection so the relationship will flow more naturally, and make sure you don’t ask for too much of your mentor’s time.
Another option to broaden your network is to get involved in causes you are passionate about, as you will meet like-minded people who have the potential to be great contacts. It’s critical to be genuine in these situations—and in all situations, for that matter—as a lack of authenticity will always come through.
The most successful networkers aren’t necessarily those who join the most groups or know the most people; they’re those who do the best job giving back, always asking what they can offer in any situation. This includes reciprocating when gifted with referrals and focusing on gaining knowledge and wisdom rather than expecting immediate results.
While what you know is an important component of success, who you know is equally critical. With that thought in mind, here’s one final piece of performance coaching advice: as you journey up the ladder, take care not to judge people based on their titles, but on their roles and responsibilities instead. I’ve found that gatekeepers, i.e., administrative assistants, are some of the most powerful people at organizations—definitely worth having in your network.