Sorry folks, your attendance at the odd networking event isn’t going to cut it as effective leadership networking. That’s because networking is a long-term commitment rather than a social event you attend sporadically. As a tech leader, networking is an essential part of your role and career, and 80% of professionals believe that networking is important to their career success. Quite simply, you need to find a way to live and breathe networking in a way that becomes part of your life rather than a conscious decision to ‘try to network.’
Why is continuous leadership networking important?
Emma Hopkinson-Spark, Chief of Staff at 101 Ways and CTO Craft Coach says, “It’s about the continual flow of it; you can’t just do it in fits and starts. It has to be authentic, and it has to be real. It doesn’t come naturally to many, but anything you do is better than nothing in networking.”
As a leader in technology, you may feel isolated, especially if you have recently moved into a CTO or CIO role and you are adapting to being part of the C-suite, and your business priorities have shifted. As a leader, you need the right networking contacts for your role’s challenges and different networks for the information you require to do your job. If you lack the right networks, you may become stagnant and fail to excel because you don’t have access to the people and broader experiences you need.
There’s also the benefit of finding people for your team through networking or moving on yourself, as according to LinkedIn, 70% of individuals were hired at an organisation where they had a connection.
What are the different types of networking?
According to the Harvard Business Review, you need to build three types of networking to be a successful leader:
Strategic – arguably the most important type of network to build as a leader; your strategic network involves leveraging the people external to your organisation who can help you to access stakeholders and new business opportunities and give you insights into areas or people you may not have considered.
Operational – these are the people in your network who can help you to complete your current role or job. These individuals are usually within your organisation and often focused on current business demands. While this network is essential, it’s easy not to go beyond it and not reach your networking potential.
Founder and Chief Coach at CTO Craft Andy Skipper says, “Throughout my own experience as a CTO, one of the most powerful strategies I’ve used is to take time to build strong relationships with others at my level in other functions within the company.”
Personal – you might know these individuals through past jobs, training or through a mutual interest or community. Whatever your connection, this network is great for your development in terms of referrals, coaching or mentoring opportunities or other ways of enhancing your career and personal development.
Speaking from experience, Skipper adds, “Building a personal network is another very important strategy, not just in terms of building a support structure and knowledge-sharing group, but in terms of career progression and highlighting the work your team does to the world at large. Enhanced visibility and awareness of who you are and what you do is a superpower that can be missed by leaders who are too insular and inward-focused. It’s not a difficult issue to fix, and it can add massively to how your whole career and work-life play out.”
How types of networking overlap
According to Hopkinson-Spark, three areas of networking must all overlap to provide the sweet spot. She suggests thinking about personal, clients and organisation as three circles that overlap in a Venn diagram. To be truly successful at networking, you need to know what you’re aiming at and which segment you’re consciously aiming to achieve.
- Personal – this is about you and what you are genuinely passionate about. It comes through if you’re trying to talk about something you’re not interested in. She says, “One thing that inspires people to want to talk to you more is when they can see your passion.”
- Clients – there are also the areas your clients are interested in and want to discuss.
- Company – consider what is commercially viable and interesting to your business.
There’s a crossover between them all, and the ideal is the middle where what you’re passionate about, what is commercially viable and worthwhile for your business and what your customers care about. So long as you’re passionate about something and your clients care about it, it’s still building good relationships and creating authenticity, and people will go to you when something similar comes up.
How can you improve your leadership networking skills?
Before you begin to consider ways to enhance your networking skills, ask yourself some pertinent questions:
How diverse is my network? The people in your network don’t need to be your best friends. In fact, as a leader, the more diverse your network, the better. Consider how you can extend your network across your organisation, outside of your organisation and outside of technology. This way, you’ll have access to different opportunities and diverse opinions, backgrounds and information.
How deep are my networking relationships? Obviously, it’s difficult to get too deep with individuals you’ve only met online or via LinkedIn but to develop meaningful networks, you need to go beneath the surface level when you can. This may be by following up after events or asking questions via email or LinkedIn. The better you know each other, the more credible you will be to them and vice versa.
Hopkinson-Spark agrees, “It’s not just about going to events, it’s the conversations you have with people and how you stay relevant in their minds. It’s how you build a network of connections and develop that as you move on, and they do too.”
Where are the gaps in my network? If everyone in your network is from your current or past organisation, you may need to open up and extend your contact base! Think about the value in your current network and where the obvious gaps are, and make efforts to fill the gaps. For example, if you’re a tech leader keen to broaden your coaching or mentoring experience, where can you find similar others with such experience?
How do you network for life?
As mentioned above, you need to consider how to integrate the different types (strategic, operational and personal) of networking into your daily life. You may consider attending in-person or virtual conferences when you can and also making regular contact on LinkedIn and other networking forums.
Skipper says, “Networking in virtual conferences is notoriously light-touch, and one of the main reasons we’re all dying to get back to in-person events. But having attended several over the pandemic, I’ve made some great connections simply by watching the conversation alongside the main stage and chiming in and starting one-to-one chats with people whose comments had really stuck with me.”
And don’t just put the effort in when things aren’t going well. Hopkinson-Spark says, “You need to build your network even when there isn’t a problem to solve, and everybody’s in their happy state. It takes years. You may only know someone online or in calls, but I’ve hired plenty of people and have clients I have only ever known online or through networking, but I’m so visible to them that they come to me when they have an issue they want to solve.”
The importance of LinkedIn in leadership networking
LinkedIn is an excellent business networking tool and an easy way to approach networking in a regular way.
“Networking is not just going to an event. It’s the voice you use on LinkedIn and how you interact with people in comments,” says Hopkinson-Spark. “I think people forget that you are not just your personal brand; you represent your company wherever. So when I’m doing what I do on LinkedIn, it raises my profile and gets followers, but I am also representing 101 Ways. You are your brand, but you are also the company. Whatever you’re talking about on LinkedIn or at networking events or at talks, you are representing your company.”
Networking doesn’t have to be something you dread. Increasing your awareness of the importance of leadership networking and the ways in which you can do it should become a natural part of your leadership style. It’s an essential part of the tech leadership toolkit and one that can be built upon every day in small ways.
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