9 Ways to Network from the Top
By: Keith Krach
People network for different reasons at various points in their career. For example, when first-time business owners set out for success, they focus on building connections that will expand their client base and gain them entry into new markets. Young professionals, however, reach out to others with the sole goal of obtaining that first promotion. And after reaching “the top” of their career, business leaders sensibly adjust their networking objectives.
At the executive level, CEOs typically have the built-in equivalent of a personal network in their board of directors or advisors. This can give leaders the false impression that they no longer need to network in the traditional sense, and many incorrectly assume that they have mastered networking — otherwise, why else would they be sitting at the head of the table?
Executives also fail to network sufficiently due to a simple lack of available time. Whereas in the past a CEO might sit on three or four other boards, today the demands of staying competitive in just one venture alone often prohibit such activities.
The question, then, is how do CEOs approach networking? And how to they maximize their efforts? The following are a few ways that executives can network more effectively:
1. Outline a clear purpose for networking.
In order for their efforts to be productive, executives must clarify their own purposes for reaching out and building professional connections. One simple approach is to create a list of reasons for networking and then prioritize them so that one meets the more important goals first.
2. Allocate time.
The best intentions will only go so far unless one lists them as actionable items on a schedule. Networking takes time, which is one of, if not the most important resource a business leader has. If an executive fails to allocate a window of time, no matter how small, on his or her calendar, the chances of that person pausing from everything else to branch out or follow up with contacts are very slim.
3. Trust in the tried-and-true cold call.
The digital age features a number of new platforms for networking, but even as people continue to reinvent the wheel, traditional approaches remain just as effective. Cold calling, for example, is still a great way to get in touch with new people. The strategy applies for phone calls, as well as for e-mailing or sending a social media message to someone out-of-the-blue.
4. Build indirect connections.
Because time is precious, many CEOs find it useful to seek out a group of people who serve as access points to even larger groups. The idea is to establish a small but strong direct network rather than a larger but weaker network. Executives should strive to identify networks already in place and make connections with them.
5. Harness social media platforms.
Phone calls and e-mails, even if they amount to nothing more than returning a call or replying to a message, are great for maintaining a connection to one’s contacts. Social media, on the other hand, works well when the objective is to simply catch someone’s attention. CEOs who make connections on these channels can decide if, when, and how to proceed with establishing a more formal relationship.
6. Share career goals.
Executives often find it very rewarding to serve as a board member or chairman of another company, a think tank, or a nonprofit. If a CEO has a goal like this, then he or she should let other people in their network know. These contacts can then pass along news of opportunities as they hear about them.
7. Develop a giving mindset.
Building a strong network works best when people, especially those in senior leadership positions, set out to help others first. Networking “down” to help people looking to advance their careers is one way to achieve this. Executives can also reach out to a fellow executive who can benefit from their skillset and experience. The more that people give to others, the more they stand to gain.
8. Perform research before meetings.
With all of the information available online, CEOs have a large number of resources they can choose from to help them prepare for meeting and working with others. Reading a blog or following the social media posts of another leader can help executives get a sense of how that person approaches business. Additionally, this practice helps leaders keep their contact lists updated.
9. Maintain a work-life balance.
Networking, like other aspects of career development, can easily get in the way of a positive work-life balance. Thus, while CEOs should maintain a strong base of contacts, they should take a more conservative approach to adding more people to their circle in the later stages of their career.