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Networking for Executives - A Smarter Way?

Is there a way that happy and successful executives network that the rest of us may not know about? Rob Cross and Robert Thomas have researched this question for 15 years and provide some guidance that is contrary to many of the self-help books of today.

Instead of gathering as many contacts as you can, build "diverse but select networks" with people across the corporate hierarchy. In the full article at HBR.org, they describe a four step process to help develop a top performing network: Analyze, De-layer, Diversify, and Capitalize. Although "De-layering" (removing negative people and focusing those who are generous and energizing) may be useful with those who already have large networks, I found the "Diversify" step to potentially bring the most benefits.

Common Network Barriers

According to another paper on networking, two barriers to diversity are quite common. Many of us tend to network with contacts that have similar experience, training, worldview, etc. Also, we have a tendency to populate our networks with people we spend time with, such as industry contacts and colleagues in the office. These are referred to as the self-similarity and proximity principles, respectively.

Six Categories to Diversify Your Network

Filling gaps in your network by using these 6 categories could be the most powerful way to a balanced and more effective inner circle:

High performers have strong ties to:

1. people who offer them new information or expertise, including internal or external clients, who increase their market awareness; peers in other functions, divisions, or geographies, who share best practices; and contacts in other industries, who inspire innovation;

2. formally powerful people, who provide mentoring, sense-making, political support, and resources; and informally powerful people, who offer influence, help coordinating projects, and support among the rank and file; and

3. people who give them developmental feedback, challenge their decisions, and push them to be better. At an early career stage, an employee might get this from a boss or customers; later, it tends to come from coaches, trusted colleagues, or a spouse.

The most satisfied executives have ties to:

1. people who provide personal support, such as colleagues who help them get back on track when they’re having a bad day or friends with whom they can just be themselves;

2. people who add a sense of purpose or worth, such as bosses and customers who validate their work, and family members and other stakeholders who show them work has a broader meaning; and

3. people who promote their work/life balance, holding them accountable for activities that improve their physical health (such as sports), mental engagement (such as hobbies or educational classes), or spiritual well-being (music, religion, art, or volunteer work).