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Leadership and Networking

Originally published February 27, 2007

I recently interviewed a gentleman for an open director position with one of my clients. In the course of our conversation, we discussed that one of the “leadership” skills that had been identified as an area for growth in his previous job was “networking.” Although he was excited about the possibility, I find that many people typically think of that term as one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that good leaders must address.

Obviously, I’m not talking about a technical network, but a set of personal contacts inside and outside of your company. This is particularly important in business intelligence (BI), but not always easy to achieve for a variety of reasons, including time and temperament.

If you are in the BI field, chances are that you are very busy and driven. You work hard, put in long hours, race from meeting to meeting, and then head home – too exhausted to even think about taking time to interact with nonessential people or attend some type of networking event. In fact, with many people, the term networking is perceived as the unpleasant task of trading favors with strangers . . . taking time away from the real day-to-day issues that must be resolved.

The truth is that the best time to invest time in networking is when you don’t have the time to network. Why spend precious time on an activity so indirectly related to the work at hand? There are three important reasons to network:

  1. To get your work done efficiently
  2. To enhance your personal and professional development
  3. To invest in future leverage

Consistent with my experience, a recent Harvard Business Review article, How Leaders Create and Use Networks, distinguishes three different types of networking that effective leaders must employ to achieve these purposes.

  1. Operational Networking: building relationships with those people who can help you do your job. These contacts tend to be primarily internal and oriented toward current demands. In BI initiatives, these contacts are determined primarily by the task or project at hand and the organizational structure required to complete the initiative. Examples of operational networking include cross-functional governance structures, internal user groups, stakeholder analysis, and virtual project teams with complementary skills sets. Are there other IT or business groups where improving your relationship with them could make your job easier?

  2. Personal Networking: building relationships outside the organization through professional associations and personal interest communities. These contacts tend to be mostly external and oriented toward current interests and potential future interests. In BI environments, these types of contacts can contribute to product knowledge and best practices. Examples of personal networking include product user groups and conferences, professional associations, and online communities and Web sites.

    Have you taken advantage of product user groups in your community, TDWI local chapter events, or BeyeBLOGS.com to learn from your peers?

  3. Strategic Networking: building internal and external relationships that are oriented toward future priorities. These contacts tend to be both internal and external and the immediate relevance may not be clear. In BI environments, these types of contacts can contribute to future opportunities, career advancement, and strategic partnerships. Examples of strategic networking include community groups, functional areas within your company that are not currently related to your BI initiative, recruiters, and external consultants. If you lost your job tomorrow or decided to change careers, what relationships have you built and who would you call?

All three types of networking are valid and important for your BI initiative and for your personal potential whether you are an individual contributor, manager, or leader. The all-too-common reality in this era of mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, restructuring, and layoffs is that people find themselves in a predicament where they have lost their connections and contacts because they were “too busy.” Invest the time in the connections before you need the connections! Tools such as LinkedIn are valuable and may save time. However, you’d be wise to complement the power of that approach with face-to-face interaction.

For many of us, networking is hard work because we have to stretch outside our comfort zone. In fact, it may be helpful to recognize why it is more difficult for some than others. There are two common terms linked with our ability to interact with others and build relationships: introvert and extrovert. There is also plenty of misunderstanding about each of these two terms.

The myth about introverts is that they are socially inept, geeky, and not good networkers. The myth about extroverts is that they are socially gifted, smooth, and great networkers. In reality, those two terms are intended to describe how individuals process information (internally or externally) and how we gain our source of energy (from being alone or being with other people).

Introverts process information internally and typically think things through before they speak. Introverts get their energy from being alone and away from other people. That doesn’t mean they are not good at networking; it does mean that being with a lot of people, especially strangers, drains energy from them.

Extroverts process information externally and typically think aloud by talking through their ideas. Extroverts get their energy from being with people. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at networking; it does mean that being with people is energizing for them.

Armed with this knowledge, what does that mean as far as being aware of your type as it relates to networking? First of all, be aware of your energy and how you need to recharge. If you are an introvert and interact on a given day with lots of people and become exhausted, that is a normal reaction. Manage your time accordingly, and give yourself time alone to recharge. If you are an extrovert and get charged by being with people, that’s great. Manage your time to make sure that you’re not just building relationships, but also accomplishing the results required.

Good networks foster good partnerships. These partnerships are based on mutual support for both parties, even when they may have different goals. To illustrate that point, let me use a recent example from my own experience.

My business provides consultants and recruiting to organizations in BI. However, we do not typically recruit from college campuses because our clients usually expect several years of experience. A client referred a recent graduate of a BI master’s degree program to me for advice. As usual, I was busy and the last thing I thought I had time for was to meet him. But, because he was referred to me, we scheduled a time. He was well-prepared for the meeting and had lots of questions that I was able to answer. We brainstormed strategies for his career path. We ended the meeting and I felt I had done my “obligatory” duty to help him. I was a bit surprised when he asked the following question “What can I do for you?” My frame of reference was that I, as the older-wiser-mentor, had “bestowed” my wisdom upon him and that there really wasn’t anything he could do for me. I was pleasantly surprised when he explained that in the course of his “networking,” he was asking leaders in our community what they were reading. His intention was to compile that list into one that he would send to all those people that had taken time to give him advice. I was impressed when I received an e-mail with the list of leadership, business, and technical books that he had collected. He had certainly differentiated himself with all the people he had met.

That story sticks with me because I believe he nailed the concept of good networking. He didn’t just “take,” but he also “gave back.” Perhaps it would make our networking easier and more productive if we created the mind-set that it’s not just about “what you can do for me,” but also about “what I can do for you.”

In the true spirit of “networking,” I’d love to hear your stories and tips about what you have done to build solid networks inside and outside of your company. You can reach me at mclarry@connectknowledge.com.

  • Maureen ClarryMaureen Clarry

    Maureen is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT), an Xtivia company. CONNECT specializes in data, technical, and organizational solutions for business intelligence. Maureen has been on the faculty of TDWI since 1998, served on the Board for the Colorado Chapter of TDWI, and participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for the University of Denver. CONNECT has been recognized as the South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, the Top 25 Women Owned and Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen can be reached at mclarry@connectknowledge.com or 303-730-7171, ext. 102.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Maureen's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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