By Jo Miller
2014 ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference Breakout Session Speaker
An emerging leader asks: “As a program manager, I rely on heavily influencing without authority to get my job done. As part of my development plan, my manager suggested that I expand my network among our internal business partners so that I can be more influential. However, I don’t want to be seen spending too much time unnecessarily schmoozing. Where should I start?”
Wise advice from your manager! Having a network of strong working relationships across your organization can connect you with hidden information, resources and opportunities. Having a great network makes it easier to get your job done, influence outcomes and gain buy-in more easily.
If you spend a lot of time building relationships with an agenda, people will be used to seeing you only when you need something from them. This trains them not to look forward to seeing you. My recommendation is to set aside a couple hours per week to build relationships with people at times when you don’t need anything from them.
To expand your network effectively and efficiently, consider starting first with these five people:
1. The Connector. A connector is a true “people person” who knows — and has great relationships with — everyone. Connectors put others at ease, and they love to open doors and make introductions. Watch them and learn!
2. The Informational Powerhouse. You can count on an informational powerhouse to be current on personnel and organizational issues. This person filters useful information from gossip or noise and knows about changes before they occur. Seek out an informational powerhouse when you need to know about new trends, ideas, projects, opportunities and so on — before they become official.
3. The Influencer. An influencer is not necessarily a high-level or high-profile leader, but has a natural ability to make things happen. Influencers get people on board with ideas and initiatives, gain agreement and collaboration from teams, and have a voice with senior leadership. Their early support can guarantee the success of your initiatives and their advocacy can get you noticed.
4. The Sponsor. Senior leader sponsors are your manager’s peers (and those ranked above them) and they have the power to accelerate your career dramatically. Interacting with them frequently can help you align your work effort with your organization’s strategic goals. Senior leader sponsors have the ability to single you out for recognition and connect you to special projects, task forces and committees and new opportunities for growth.
5. The Mentor. The mentor is a special category of senior leader sponsor. While most women rely on their mentors to advise them on how to navigate situations at work, consider asking your mentor to critique and give you honest feedback on how you are doing and how you come across. Many of the senior-level women I coach can trace their career advancement back to a turning point, where a mentor advised them on something they needed to be doing differently. I often observe men using their mentors differently than women do. They are more proactive about asking their mentors to sponsor them. Consider asking your mentor to actively open doors and connect you with opportunities.
If you are just beginning to develop yourself as a leader, I can’t think of a better place to start than expanding your network. But be strategic. Draw a quick sketch of your org chart, with yourself in the middle. Now draw heavier lines connecting you to those individuals with whom you have built solid relationships with. Do the lines extend in all directions? Do they include each of the five key types of people? Where are the gaps in your network? Create a plan to fill the gaps. Your plan could be as simple as listing names and an action to take to make a connection.
As your network grows, you’ll find you are building a cadre of collaborators, supporters and advocates who are there to support you in your career and leadership objectives. Your ability to lead and influence will expand effortlessly.
CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc., Jo Miller is the creator of the Women’s Leadership Coaching® system, a roadmap for women who want to break into leadership positions in business. Wondering how to become a leader? Watch Jo’s free four-part video series, How to Build Your Brand as an Emerging Leader.