It's Your Network! Invest In It.

Ask many top business leaders about their current role and how they got here and you will find a common theme – many of them arrived in their role due to a colleague, friend or acquaintance that connected them into the opportunity. Many leaders have also staffed their teams quickly by referring to their network to identify and attract top talent with whom they have met, worked with, or connected with in the past. We all talk about the value of a strong personal network but few actually invest in that network…until it is too late or “panic” time.

The best networkers make relationship-building part of their regular life cadence. They invest in others. They are interested in learning from others. They look for ways to help others. And they recognize the value of their network and how to use it (or not use it).

Couple of thoughts to consider as you build out your web of business, personal and philanthropic relationships:

Approach building your network with the attitude of helping others. Pass on and post job leads and consider connecting others into opportunities that may come across your email inbox. Think of helping others as making relationship deposits that could pay off down the road. There is also a satisfaction that comes from seeing others succeed because of your investment!

Have a system. Develop a functional, usable personal system of keeping track of the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, social network addresses, and other interesting pieces of information. The list will grow throughout your career and thus the system you select should be expandable. I have a very structured process for tracking relationships. I use Outlook for relationships that I expect to leverage in the coming months / years and I also make notes on where I met individuals, what I discussed with recruiters, specific talents or skills of an individual with whom I may some day look to recruit, etc. The next “layer” for me is Linked-In and Facebook where I only connect with people I have met or interacted with directly. The third layer is the social layer for me (e.g. Twitter) where I am more willing and interested in connecting with individuals and organizations with which I have a more limited relationship.

Dive into the world of electronic connectivity. If you have not invested time in developing a Linked-In profile and at least spent time understanding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, etc. expect to be left behind by the new connected, always-on, multi-screen generation. It’s simple and doesn’t require much of your time – and these tools are great ways to expand your relationship web.

Develop a routine for staying connected to your network. I personally set aside time each week for “staying in touch” with my network. I have a method that works for me – and yours will be different and unique to you. The key is to develop a routine that allows you to rotate through your contacts and also to invest time where worth investing. Not every contact is worth keeping on the list and at times, the list should be culled.

Engage in activities that drive network growth. Participation in community and philanthropic endeavors is a great way to meet new people, develop new relationships and expand your reach. In addition, there are typically excellent leadership development opportunities that arise from engaging in community organizations. Others will be interested when you are interesting!

Ask for advice from a mentor, coach, or close colleague. Coaches and mentors have typically “been there before” and can offer great advice on relationship building. One word of caution, keep in mind that your life is your life and while coaches and mentors provide advice and opinions, it is your responsibility to own the decision and consequences. Not everyone is a good coach even though they may have the word in their “title.”

Always return phone calls. I return every recruiter call and respond to all emails that arrive via references / referrals or a mutual friend. You never know what might develop out of a new relationship or where you may help someone else make the connection between opportunity and potential.

Recognize that not everyone is a “people” person. I am naturally a people person – outgoing, interested in engaging in conversation, etc. It is important to, at times, dial-it-down as not every personality type operates this way and for many, the idea of relationship building is an uncomfortable activity. Keep in mind that the best relationships are often built when one considers the ideas, opinions, behaviors and preferences of others.

Start Today. The time to think about relationships and your network is not on the day that you take on a new leadership role and need to find and attract top talent quickly. It is not the day that you are told that your job is being eliminated. It is not on the day you learn that your leadership style is not working and you need a coach / mentor. From a career perspective, I have seen many individuals “panic” when the job they thought they would be in “forever” is suddenly eliminated. Who do you call first? What else could you do based on your skills, education, abilities and leadership potential? What’s your back-up plan? Start today. While the job market has largely recovered, we will go through more ups and downs and a friend or colleague may be the able to quickly help you pivot into a new role, address a business challenge or find the right needed resources for your business.