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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 5, 2015 3 years ago

Emerging leaders: How to enhance your status

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Networking is more than just meeting new people. If you want to move up the ladder, learn how to build a network of allies who can help you climb.
by: Denise Federer Bottom-line Behavior

Have you ever witnessed an individual in your company receive a promotion that you wanted, or felt the frustration of a competitor getting a client contract for which you were vying?
Assuming that you were equally qualified, the question then becomes this: What other factors might impact an individual's ability to get to the next level of professional success?
There is no doubt that talent, focus and drive are three attributes that are needed to successfully climb the corporate ladder or gain clients. But it is also important to have strong connections and advocates who support you. The best way to make those valuable contacts is through networking.

Unfortunately, the concept of “networking” can evoke a strong negative reaction from some individuals. It is often seen as a behavior that only requires the ability to “schmooze” at an event, rather than a construct that necessitates acquiring a complex set of relationship skills.

Good networking entails more than being outgoing or an extrovert. After meeting someone and initially making a positive impression, you must be able to develop a meaningful rapport with an individual while simultaneously demonstrating your expertise and value. Furthermore, being able to intentionally execute on those networking skills can critically impact your influence as a leader and/or business owner.

A Harvard Business Review article authored by Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter, “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” identifies three 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; and

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.

Once you acknowledge the importance of networking, you then might want to identify your goals in this area and create a behavioral plan to help you achieve them. Some examples of networking goals might be: trying to meet potential new clients; cultivating a referral source: or being considered for a higher leadership position in your current organization.

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 develop 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, for 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, e.g., administrative assistants, are some of the most powerful people at organizations — definitely worth having in your network.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: {encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}

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