I spent a significant part of the summer on a project for a large client that has made a concerted effort to invest in executive leadership development in meaningful ways. Now that the project is mostly complete, I want to take the next few blog posts to unpack some of the trends, thoughts, or other observations I had during the project but was too busy to really give adequate thought to.
One of the most obvious things that kept coming up in this project is how many of the leaders being evaluated were being told that they needed to expand their internal network inside their company. It raises the question — if this is an obviously beneficial leadership skill (and I think it is), then why isn’t it happening? Is networking a lost art? Do leaders really understand the importance of it?
When it comes down to it, I think that building a professional network–especially an internal one–is being underemphasized in most organizations. The root cause is probably a combination of “too busy doing the work” and a fear that it signals that you are overly ambitious or looking past your current role too soon.
Here are three simple reasons for all leaders to make sure they are paying attention to their internal network:
- It’s good for your company – Objectively, some of the best and most effective leaders at every company I work with are those that spend time building and touching their internal network. Beyond creating a broader base of support and resources for a leader as they confront strategic issues, it also provides them a less siloed perspective on how their particular department fits into the overall goals of the company. The leaders that struggle to maintain a network are effectively flying blind compared to those that don’t.
- It’s good for your people – To a legitimate degree, your internal network is your direct reports’ internal network. Having strong relationships with other people and functions in your company gives your people a degree of access that they wouldn’t have on their own. Facilitating these connections also works toward giving your team a broader perspective about how the larger company works.
- It’s good for your career – The bottom line is that no matter how good you do your job, without a strong internal network, your performance is playing out in a relative vacuum. Not enough people can see what you and your team are doing so well and this can have some starkly negative effects on a career. On the other hand, as a leader builds and maintains their internal network, their visibility rises along with their viability to be considered for new and more expansive roles.