How Leaders Create and Use Networks

Leadership networking is about developing and using your networks in a way that builds relationships and strengthens alliances in service of the organization’s work and goals. A strong leadership network will serve you and the organization well, but it can also extend beyond the job. If you have a great reputation within your network, you have the advantage of having a solid group of contacts who can be resources if you start a job search or look to extend your professional reach.

There are three types of networks important in business: operational, personal and strategic. While a lot of managers excel at building and using their operational network, they often overlook their personal and strategic networks.

Operational networking
Operational networking involves cultivating the relationships with people you need to accomplish your job. This may mean working closely with your Human Resources manager to make sure you hire the right people or developing relationships within other departments to win support for your initiatives.This is the network you need to have to basically get things done. It’s good relationships with the people in your critical path, your customers, your suppliers, your team members
Most people master this skill or they wouldn’t be in management.  But some managers don’t reach out widely enough to build all the relationships they need longer term or they miss key changes in overall company priorities because they get bogged down in the day-to-day functions of their jobs.

Personal networking
 Personal networking is an afterthought for many busy managers.  When you work 60-80 hour weeks, the easiest thing to eliminate from your schedule is your alumni meeting, the annual golf fundraiser and your scuba diving course.  But these networks allow you to meet a diverse group of like-minded professionals.  They also are a way to develop important social skills for many professionals and may be the first place you turn when you start thinking about changing careers.
These are professional contacts that are discretionary, that are not as closely tied to the immediate job (so) that you can neglect or even abandon and still get your work done today.  But these are the contacts that allow you to continue to develop professionally, to benchmark yourself with peers outside, to remain a bit on the cutting edge of your profession. These are the networks that people often use when they want to make a career move.

Strategic networking
Strategic networking is the toughest but most essential if managers want to become business leaders.  Ibarra explains that contact with peers and with senior executives in your field is vital and she encourages managers to look beyond their industry as well.  This allows managers to share ideas about best practices in management, learn new approaches and keep close tabs on developments in business and technology.  It helps managers to see the bigger picture and create their own visionary approach.
These are the networks that make a huge different in leadership.  This is where strategic ideas come into play.  This is what allows people to line up stakeholders and, frankly, this is the area where most people have serious gaps.