Wired for Success

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Why Networking Is the Essential Professional Skill

Networking professionally for career and personal success

Networking is increasingly being promoted as both a business and personal social skill. There's no doubt that both the social media form of networking and personal face-to-face networking has become a fundamental part of the modern landscape.

Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap, in their article entitled "How To Build Your Network," in the Harvard Business Review, contend "Networks determine which ideas become breakthroughs, which new drugs are prescribed, which farmers cultivate pest-resistant crops and which R& D engineers make the most high-impact discoveries". They cite the work of Randall Collins of the University of Pennsylvania who showed that breakthroughs from icons such as Freud, Picasso, Watson, Crick, and Pythagoras were the consequence of a particular type of personal network that promoted exceptional individual creativity.

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"Networks deliver three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power. Executives see these advantages at work every day, but might not pause to consider how their networks regulate them," Uzzi and Dunlap argue. They show in their research how developing diverse, rather than "self-similar" network contacts through shared high-stakes activities builds a more powerful network.

Deborah Mills-Scofield, writing in the Harvard Business Review argues that networking has existed for the past 2000 years and it has enabled our survival. She postulates that networks promote new forms of communication, spread knowledge and therefore our networks need to be cultivated and treated well.

Many career coaches and talent managers now see networking both as a professional skill and the best source of possible jobs. Bill Barnett, writing in the Harvard Business Review, cautions networkers to not limit their contacts to the few people they know well. Rob Cross and Robert Thomas, writing in the Harvard Business Review argue that "network size doesn't usually matter...the executives who consistently rank in the top 20% of their companies in both performance and well-being have diverse but select networks, made up of high-quality relationships with people who come from several different spheres and from up and down the corporate hierarchy."

Linda Hill, and Kent Lineback, authors of Being the Boss: The Three Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, describe how three networks are critical for success: operational, for day to day work; developmental, a collection of individuals whom you trust and to whom you can turn to for a sympathetic ear, advice and a place to discuss and explore professional options; and strategic, the most important, comprising those who can help you do two critical tasks-define what the future will bring and second, prepare for and succeed in that future.

In my article in Psychology Today co-written by Darcy Rezac, "Give Away Your Network," we argue that "championing an ethos called Positive Networking®...is discovering what you can do for someone else. In other words, networking is not about you and how others can help you. Instead, it's bout others, and how you can help them."

Ivan R. Misner, one of the most active proponents of networking, and founder of BNI International reports that based on his research in the U.S., Canada, the U.K and Australia, the highest-rated traits associated with networking are the ones "related to developing and maintaining good relationships," which includes traits such as a positive attitude, being trust worthy, a good listener, being enthusiastic, helpful and sincere.

Darcy Rezac, Gayle Hallgren-Rezac and Judy Thomson, (authors of Work The Pond, ) professional trainer collaborators and promoters of positive networking, provide these ten great networking tips for 2012:

1.     "Accept that there's nothing wrong with you. Recognize that if all the online connecting and the ability to work in your pajamas from home, is making you feel isolated, you are not alone. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, says, 'We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude.'

2.     Rage gently against the machines. Things happen faster if you talk to someone in person or pick up the phone. Curb the desire to email close-proximity colleagues; instead walk over to their office.

3.     Embrace the octopus. Social media is a many-tentacled creature that squeezes time out of your 24 hours. Accept that it may not be practical to be brilliant tweeter, blogger, You Tuber, LinkedIn or Facebook updater; instead of hopping on all social media bandwagons, do one or two things well. Before you upload, send or comment, ask yourself, 'what did that add to my reputation, my brand or to anyone's else's world.?'

4.     Make the effort on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the go-to-site for business connections, it has become the search engine for finding people.

5.     Start using your initials. In the social networking world you may not be that special. If you have a common name, or have the misfortune of sharing one with a criminal, start including the initial of your middle name. Any wild and crazy pictures of you bounding around the digital world? Google yourself and look at those images. Do you see your professional headshot or a less than flattering version of you with the same name?

6.     Commit resources to the face you show to the world. Your business may have a Facebook Fan site with 36 million 'Likes,' really cool videos, contests and then there's one raunchy "Wall Post" that you didn't catch. Maybe you need a DSM Director of Social Media.

7.     Redefine networking . It's about time to toss out the image of a glass of wine, cheese cube schmooze-fest and accept networking for what it is-simply reaching out and making a connection, but one with dignity. It happens in the hallway at work, sitting on an airplane, at social and business events,. If there's at least one other person in close proximity there's an opportunity to connect. Networking is an attitude, not an event.

8.     Teach your children social intelligence skills. Who else is going to do it? Do they think to shake hands when meeting an adult? Do they know how to converse with those more senior? If you are a young person reading this and your parents forgot to share these life lessons, join a young professionals group in a business organization. It's amazing how senior business leaders say 'yes' to mentoring students.

9.     Be "nicer." Make this Maya Angelou quote your mantra for 2012: 'People will never forget how you make them feel.'"

10.   Transfuse the dead zone. Do your part to bring some life back to the office by talking and sharing ideas. Take it from Steve Jobs: "There's a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and IChat...That's crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions." (from Walter Isaacson's book, Steve Jobs).

 


Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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