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Professional networking for today’s innovative thinker

I know, you think you are too busy. You think you don’t have time to get away from your office and spend time talking with other busy professionals. There is so much work to do. You may think “I don’t need friends, I’m fine. I can do this on my own.” That’s where you’d be wrong. Trust me — this sort of rapport with like-minded professionals is exactly what you need. 

Experts confirm having a good professional network can be very beneficial to career success. It provides a forum for members to receive advice, improve connections and be inspired by others. Participants often gain a significant amount of personal satisfaction by understanding a new perspective and fresh ideas. Professional networking provides a unique opportunity to step outside your normal circle of friends to gain a new understanding of how the world looks through someone else’s eyes. 

A good professional network provides a positive two-way communication channel. In many cases, the conversation turns into a mentor/mentee relationship with one party explaining a particular challenge from their perspective while the other listens to new ways to solve the problem. Why reinvent the wheel when someone else has already solved it? We can all learn from one another. We can all teach one another. Let’s join together and be the best we can be. 

Why you need a professional network 

According to Stephen Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This mentality will derail your career success very quickly. True networking is about discovery and sharing. It’s about listening without immediately forming a response. It’s about looking for others that you have something in common with and beginning to build a relationship. People want to work and do business with others that they know, like, and trust. 

Networking through career growth is important and perhaps even critical for those making their way through the leadership transition to higher levels of management. Networking provides a valuable list of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information that you can turn to whenever and wherever you are. They’ve got your back, they help in many different ways:

  • “The importance of being able to see things from another person’s perspective based on their life experience is very important.” Geri Westphal, Founding Partner, LeanUp, LLC 
  • When asked about how professional networking impacted his career, Bryan Richardson, Founding Partner at LeanUp, LLC said “I had an objective to develop comprehensive policies and procedures for my cash management group, a somewhat daunting task when starting from nearly nothing. I attended a meeting of my professional network and heard a presentation on that very topic. I learned a lot and was able to interact with my network colleague to create my company’s policies and procedures. This interaction saved me significant time and was invaluable to me.” 

When managers begin the transition from functional manager to business leader, they must quickly understand a variety of strategic issues. Lateral and vertical relationships with other functional and business unit managers from outside their immediate control become a lifeline for figuring out how their own contributions fit into the big picture. Strategic networking plugs the aspiring leader into a set of relationships and information sources that help further their own personal career growth. 

When challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues facing the overall business, many managers underestimate the amount of time they will spend on relational issues. Nor do they easily understand that interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders are not distractions from their “real work” but are actually at the heart of their current or future leadership roles. 

Once aspiring leaders understand that too much internal focus limits their career growth, they also become aware that the limitations of their social skill and lack of knowledge about professional areas beyond their own area of expertise, requires that they seek more learning. They begin to look for kindred spirits outside their organizations. Through professional networks, managers gain new perspectives that allow them to advance in their careers. 

Forms of networking

There are three forms of networking and each provides valuable experiences for participants. 

  • Operational networking helps individuals manage current internal responsibilities. Contacts are generally internal colleagues and the focus is geared toward achieving current job demands. 
  • Personal networking enhances professional development by offering a group of external contacts who have common interests and career aspirations. 
  • Strategic networking helps define future priorities and career aspirations. Contacts are both internal and external and are oriented toward the future. 

A safe place for personal development

A personal network can also be a safe space for personal development and can provide a foundation for strategic networking. According to the famous six degrees of separation principle, our personal contacts are valuable to the extent that they help us reach, in as few connections as possible, the far-off person who has the information we need.
What differentiates a leader from a manager is the ability to figure out where to go and who to enlist for help in achieving their goals. Recruiting stakeholders, aligning allies, diagnosing the political landscape, and brokering conversations among unconnected parties are all part of a leader’s job. As they step up to the leadership transition, good managers accept their growing dependence on others and seek to transform it into mutual influence. 

Networking matters. Take the time now and you will be well rewarded in the future. 

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