The Secret to Good Leadership? Networking
Updated: May 20, 2020
Networking sounds like a dirty word. It’s an uncomfortable after work event, where everyone firmly shakes hands while tightly clasping a warm glass of white wine in the other hand. Smiles that never reach the eyes are painted on and loud unwarranted laughter reverberates throughout the room as business cards are swapped and often discarded if there isn't an immediately apparent one-sided benefit warranting a follow up.
Well, that is the image I conjure up.
In truth, I know many people who thrive in these scenarios. But this is not what I mean when I talk about the importance of networking.
To me, the end result of developing an ever-evolving community of trusted peers, and actually using it, is the key.
When I first arrived on campus at Harvard Business School in early 2018, I was paired with a group of 8 other executives. A mix of men and women, all from different countries and completely different industries. We were tasked with preparing a case study about a problem or opportunity within our own businesses to present to the small group for feedback. As I was preparing my case around the prohibitive cost of printing illustrative books in Australia, I remember thinking to myself that this activity was the biggest waste of time. I knew book publishing to be a nuanced industry, and that Australia itself had its fair share of idiosyncrasies around market size, access to raw materials, copyright and business regulations. It was clear from the outset that 8 executives from Russia, Kuwait, USA, Spain, France, India, Brazil and the Netherlands with expertise in FMCs, big pharma, oil, banking and renewables would have little to contribute to my specific business issue.
I quickly learnt two incredibly valuable lessons:
1. I was wrong.
2. Thought diversity is crucial. Thought from outside your bubble helps to challenge norms and break down “this is how we do things” mentality.
Now this isn’t to say you should blindly take the advice of someone who has no concept of you or what you do. But rather that you should be open to exploring new ideas rather than instantly dismissing them, particularly if it's something you haven't or wouldn't normally think to consider.
Not all ideas are good ideas, and that is ok. Some questionable ideas may spark other great ideas, but if not it doesn't mean that thinking outside your exisiting framework is any less worthwhile. In fact in the reverse sense, the process can help solidify and test your original thinking.
Questions don’t require specialists. One doesn’t have to know everything about a person or their organisation to contribute to their learning or problem solving, rather they just need to know how to ask questions that might challenge the thinking or prompt the other person to further explore root causes (and vice versa).
People = Business. At the end of the day, companies are just a group of people working to a shared goal in a communal environment. As humans we understand human behaviour. There will always be roles, industries and traditions that we don’t understand but within that there are behaviours and situations we can relate to. One does not need to be a carbon copy of someone to experience share in a relevant way, to add value.
In practical terms, I walked away from this newfound network of executives with a deeper understanding that our business was in need of an in-house sales expert and that the original issue I had identified was just one of many outcomes of an unseen broader growth opportunity.
This is of course an extreme situational example, but to me, it highlighted the importance of actively developing relationships outside of your neighbourhood, office, and industry to enhance strategic thinking.
Click here to read about creating strategic networks.
Ali Green is a CEO, Founder, Social Entrepreneur, Board Director, Woman of Influence & Champagne Enthusiast.