Refine your leadership skills by learning to utilize your network.
As a leader, you’re likely aware that building a network takes time and work. Mentors and a network of peers are not easily established for jobs, professional growth, or business. The process of growing a network, and a community, is proportional to the thought you put towards it.
That said, not everyone takes the same steps to build a network. Leadership development programs are tools we highly recommend considering. They’re a step towards learning about yourself and expanding your understanding of how to work with people.
Now, how does a network contribute effectively to your role as a leader, and how can you unlock that network in a productive way?
The search for true leadership requires self-awareness, which networks play a key role in developing.
A true leader puts in the self-work before looking to others to change. They also view self-work as an ongoing experience of sustained learning rather than a short-term project.
Let’s dive deeper into networking, a concept that you’ll learn has positive connotations when framed correctly. This article addresses the following:
- What is networking and why is it important?
- How do we pursue true leadership?
- How do we sustain learning as leaders?
What is networking?
Networking is intercommunication, exchanging ideas with those with shared interests or expertise. We view networking as a series of opportunities to learn and engage. Learning about yourself, others, and information. Most importantly to leadership development, it’s learning about yourself through others.
Networking doesn’t have to be insincere, corporate, or repulsive if you approach it with meaning and an intention to develop deeper relationships. Oftentimes, those relationships are a twofold source of wisdom and knowledge when you need it most.
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Good networking involves a mutual understanding of the relationship and an environment conducive to it. The more work you put into a network, the more it resembles a community: a place you can go to for help or to help.
Why is networking important?
Networking is profound for connection and support. As you build yours, you’ll find that you can lean into your network for much more than professional development, and you begin to build a community.
It’s also a wonderful practice in self-awareness. By interacting with people outside of your usual environment, your creativity and self-image is challenged. It often feels uncomfortable for good reason. Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable and observe the environment around you serves as practice for what you should often do as a leader.
As we do this, we acquire perspective, which encourages growth. A healthy network focused on growth boosts:
- Confidence and awareness of strengths
- Understanding of opportunities for personal and professional growth
- Creativity through exposure to other pools of knowledge and ways of thinking
The community you draw from networking often becomes a resource for your team. That includes resources for:
- Hiring new teammates and identifying strong leaders
- Industry information and trends
- Future positions or opportunities for involvement
Dr. Peter Gray, who spent years studying professional networks, also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a tight-knit community, or as he phrases it, “building a collaboration network”. In our Control the Room podcast episode with Dr. Grey, he suggests that consistent, quality relationships with 15-20 close ties prove wildly beneficial to a work environment. Reframing teamwork as a collaborative effort makes the workplace exciting, and perspective within your network enhances your desire for innovation.
“Your ability to see the world really changes as a function of your network.”
Dr. Peter Gray
Are there people who are positive thinkers within your network? Do they support your ideas? Do you feel excited to present your ideas to them? Dr. Gray calls these traits of good leaders “energizer traits”.
As you grow within an organization, it becomes more important to have a solid network from which to pull when needed. That’s especially the case as teams become more collaborative with time. We built this assessment tool to help analyze involvement and existing relationships.
Spend time pursuing a network. Your future self will thank you for the time you save them and opportunities you bring them.
How do we pursue true leadership?
Self-awareness assessments can fall down when used without followthrough. We can use them to help us understand whose strengths in the team will help us prevail when faced with a new problem, product, or shift.
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Such assessments should be used or followed up with for inner work and inner change. The self-assessment serves as a true mirror when you’re focused on self-discovery and self-improvement. Use the reflective moments to continually practice being the improved version of yourself.
When you practice looking at your true self, you can begin to ask questions. It can be powerful to see if you’re being perceived the way you see yourself.
Are you being manipulative? Are you a true leader? Is the story in your head about yourself authentic? What can be done to fine-tune your tendencies and align the person in the mirror with the person in your head.
The leader should always start within, looking to the symptoms that need to be addressed within themselves.
It is necessary to lean into the things that can create change, empathy, psychological safety, and culture. These are often viewed by society as soft, squishy, and even scary to approach.
As you address these within yourself, you’ll learn how to better work with those around you, and you’ll see the value in advancing those skills. Interrelational dynamics have to be discussed and addressed. People don’t often want to lean into that stuff, but that’s ultimately where the real work happens.
Learning and working through how to work with people and welcome collaboration advances innovation. Spawrks, the co-host of Space Pencils, stated the following in a recent conversation on our podcast:
“I feel like that’s the thing, that if you can have the patience for assuming positive intent all the time as much as possible, you can really find out and learn a lot more, even when you might be completely able to see around the corner. By validating it with that type of respect and in your communication, you can yourself learn more than you even knew about what you’re thinking about.”
Start with yourself, move to department health, and finally the full organization.
How do we sustain learning as leaders?
Practical steps must be taken to sustain learning and development. Oftentimes, this takes the form of programs, which can replace networking if done right.
There are systems and programs that offer some of the same benefits of networking. What’s key is finding the right cohort or program to suit your needs.
Programs offer support to those who are looking to build a network. At the end of a program, this question often arises: “Now that I’m trying to use these learnings, what do I do with them?” It’s vital to be able to bring it back to the cohort for support.
The most powerful programs offer quality content and provide an environment for connection. We believe that the right programs, ours included, are designed to create extended relationships as a long-term resource. That’s invaluable. Maximize your time by recognizing opportunities for connection. That comes in the form of connecting the content and training into the work you do and building relationships with others on site.
Ultimately, learning is sustained through consistent attention to self-work and upkeep with your network. Connection within programs allows a moment where we truly connect to the work we do.
We’re capable of both contributing towards and gleaning from our networks in a productive manner. The aim of “networking” should be to do both, developing connections into communal, mutually beneficial relationships.
Interested in growing your network through programs? Check out our Leadership Development Programs, which offer leadership consulting through self-work and connection with a cohort. The aim is to provide a clearer view of your leadership style and connect people with interests in innovating as leaders.
Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about the right place to start. Consider also exploring our downloads to support facilitation.