Do you want to cultivate your network? Start by being a node people want to connect with.
A strong network isn’t built by hoarding acquaintances on LinkedIn. It is quality, not quantity, that counts. We all exist in a social network of both professional and personal affiliations – how can we improve our networks so that they support us better? Cultivate these qualities in yourself first:
A sense of reciprocity. Healthy connections demand give-and-take. This means you need to have a clear understanding of both your own usefulness and value to others, as well as appreciation of others’ strengths, concerns, and needs. Networking needs to be a mutually beneficial process otherwise it comes off as self-serving. The connection between two points in a network is a living thing, and the energy flowing between the points needs to go both ways for it to be healthy.
Empathy. Continually try to see things from others’ perspectives – what do things look like from the vantage point of that node over there? How can you help this person? What resources or support can you provide? Who else could you connect them with that would be valuable to them? You need to be able to have empathy and the ability to take on others’ perspectives in order to know what they might need from you so that you can position your value to them accordingly.
Confidence and courage. Know your value. You have something unique to offer – know it and own it. Be willing to take it to people, to show them how you can help them. Have the courage to take initiative to connect and communicate – don’t just wait for people to come to you. As we have discussed previously, people who are confident are compelling to others, making them inclined to look at where you are going and how they can help get you there.
Interpersonal adaptability. Networks aren’t just an exchange of services, they are a web of relationships. You need to be able to build and maintain effective relationships with a wide range of people. This involves making an effort at connecting in an ongoing fashion, not just going to someone when you need something. This also means not just cultivating relationships with people that you happen to like or personalities that you find easy to get along with.
Strategic vision. Your network should include not just those who can support you in your current role but who will also help you be successful in future roles. Develop a long-range vision for your career and network accordingly. Cultivate connections beyond those that are obvious to you. Surround yourself with people who have the competencies that you wish to develop or who have specific knowledge and skills that you need. As shown earlier, a diverse network will help you gather a breadth of information and perspectives that you can bring to bear on the problems and issues that you face.
Keeping your network thriving takes time and effort, but the benefits returned are well worth it. Your connections can broaden your perspective, deepen your knowledge, connect you with resources, and provide support when you face challenges. A strong network can also help you navigate political waters by showing you the most efficient means of accomplishing things through others. Leveraging your connections strategically allows you to create the kind of experience and impact you want to have; and being a valued connection to others has a meaning and positive impact all its own.