For some, that word brings images of hotel meeting rooms, coffee (or a cash bar), and a room of people trying to give you their business card. Others think networking is for sales people and those looking for a job. If your first thought was either of those things, keep reading . . .
Others think that networking is something that isn’t important if you are in a bigger organization, or the only networking that matters is that which happens inside the company.
Or, perhaps networking to you means having a killer LinkedIn profile.
None of these viewpoints is completely wrong, and yet none convey the full picture either. Networking is about intentionally finding ways to create and nurture relationships for mutual benefit. That includes inside and outside the organization, on and off line.
As a leader, you have responsibilities to your organization, your team, and yourself. Networking can help you balance and improve your success with all of those responsibilities. Here are five ways networking can help you.
Expand your perspective. If you don’t meet and engage with new people, your perspective will never change. If you don’t talk to people in other industries, or with different challenges, you will never see your situation in new ways. This reason alone benefits you, your team, and your organization greatly – it is benefit enough to invest your time in networking.
Build your knowledge. One of the most powerful ways we learn is from other people. Getting to know new people (or those you already know, better) is a powerful (and generally fun) way to learn. Expanding and strengthening your network is one of the most powerful ways to learn.
Find creative solutions. If you are getting the first two benefits, this third one almost comes automatically. The interaction with others may lead to new ideas and solutions, and you can also go to your network and ask them for their input and ideas. If you are doing this well, people will gladly offer thoughts and ideas – stuff you could never get on your own.
Get things done faster. In our personal lives we know this. Need a handyman? You ask your friends who they use. Looking for a new insurance agent? You do the same. Your network is a valuable source of those referrals, or the resource you need could be in your network already. This could be anything from finding the perfect new employee, or consultant or vendor. A bigger and stronger network helps you get lot of things done faster – for yourself and your organization.
Identify mentors. You may have a team member that is moving to a new location or wants to learn about a new industry – your network might be the solution. Your organization may want to introduce a product in a new market, someone in your network might be able to help – or introduce you to someone who can. The experience and mentorship as well as the connections your network can provide, are the powerful benefits you can gain from networking.
The list could be much longer than this – but any of the reasons are reason enough to make sure that intentional time on your calendar is spent engaging with others outside of your team, organization, industry, geography, culture and more. This investment will pay long-term dividends for everyone involved.
Before I Go
What I’ve shared may seem one-sided to you – we’ve talked about the benefit you (or your team or organization) can derive from the relationships you build in your networking activities. If that is your thought, think again.
As I was finishing this article I had a scheduled phone call with a gentleman. We re-connected after many years based on something that was posted on LinkedIn, but that isn’t the value of the story. In twenty minutes we reconnected, directly found ways to help each other with our businesses, and I definitely gained four of the five benefits above.
Because we were both operating from my definition of networking.
In that definition, I said that networking is about mutual benefit. You won’t gain the benefits described in this article if you engage in “me-first” or selfish behaviors. Networking starts with the relationship, which means you must share as much as you receive – the only way you can gain the benefits here is if you earnestly seek to help others first.