The first leader I had an opportunity to work with and watch build a multibillion-dollar enterprise was David Dorman, now founding partner of Centerview Capital Technology Partners. His vision and execution skills made an indelible imprint in how I relate to customers and colleagues. His leadership shaped how I interact with others and connect people to opportunities, especially in terms of executive networking.
Effective networking is dependent on its foundation, and my motivation is rooted in a desire to serve. John C. Maxwell develops all of his principles on a foundation of servant leadership. I discuss servant-leadership culture often because it is essential for fostering personal and professional growth — and developing strong relationships.
Executive networking is a crucial component of corporate leadership. A great leader prioritizes relationships and recognizes that these relationships — those with employees, with business partners, with potential clients — are what determine the success or demise of a company.
FIND THE COMMON GROUND
I am the first to appreciate that networking can be uncomfortable for a lot of people.
Networking is a long-term venture — it is important to remember that the goal is to form lasting relationships. Networking gets a negative connotation from those who expect to reap benefits from a connection immediately; this is when it can feel cheap, insincere or manipulative. The best “connectors” build relationships authentically and are genuinely interested in using their talents, knowledge or resources to benefit others.
Find a common point of interest, and your conversations will feel less forced. Talking with professionals can feel tricky if you only talk about their industry, or credentials. Remember that all successful people are first, and foremost, people and have families, interests, likes and dislikes. If you try and connect with someone over just their title, you won’t get very far.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU CAN GIVE
When your goal is to serve others, your focus is turned outward and suddenly your efforts have true meaning and purpose that are tied to something larger than just yourself. This is especially important for senior executives, who have spent many years networking and building their careers.
This time last year, the Harvard Business Review conducted a study on networking, and found that those who feel powerless — employees who are just beginning with a company, just starting their careers or belong to a minority group, for example — often feel they have little or nothing to offer others and therefore don’t network regularly, or sometimes at all.
This is why is it so essential to not only encourage, but facilitate networking within your company. Consider implementing a mentorship program that will guide and support new or marginalized employees.
You will be a more effective leader within your company by knowing your employees and understanding their interests and talents, as well as helping them realize their own special skills. It is often those who feel they have nothing to give who can give the most.
INVEST IN PEOPLE
I love people, and I love to see people achieve more than they think they can. As an executive, your responsibility in networking is even greater: Networking for the executive is about connecting people with other people, of course, but it is also about connecting people to the right job. If you hire the right talent and invest in equipping them with the right tools — the sky is the limit.
The more you focus on what you can do for others and find an authentic connection to build on, the more excited you will become for prospects to network. This will lead to more powerful, lasting and meaningful relationships.
Always have an open mind, be eager to learn from others, and welcome opportunities to share your skills and knowledge. Empowering those around you is the best investment you can make as an executive – and as a person.