The idea that many women feel unease while networking is nothing new. Often associated with being larger-than-life, self-aggrandizing and self-promoting, it’s no wonder many women shy away from this activity. According to Joanna Barsh, Suzie Cranston and Geoffrey Lewis, authors of How Remarkable Women Lead, most women prefer connecting on a more intimate and meaningful level. In light of this to many, networking could not possibly be authentic and meaningful; or could it?
Before we explore a more authentic approach to networking, I think it’s important to discuss the different forms of networking that are critical to one’s professional life. According to Herminia Ibarra, professor of Organizational Behaviour at INSEAD and author of Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader, there are three forms of networking:
1. Operational network: Known to many as building a network among your immediate colleagues in order to navigate internal organizational responsibilities.
2. Personal network: Related to friends and family. Often promoted on social media and is there to boost your personal development.
3. Strategic network: A highly diverse and more complex group of individuals composed of people who have varied skills, abilities, life experiences, and professional and educational backgrounds.
Ibarra draws our attention to the last of these, the strategic network. In essence, Ibarra explains that the strategic network is one of the most important forms of networking because this network goes beyond the traditional professional and social settings and has been proven to reap unparalleled rewards when properly maintained and accessed. The reason for this, according to Wharton professor and Give and Take author Adam Grand, is that the people often found in strategic networks are what Grant calls “weak-tie connections,” or people with whom you have a relationship but no deep connection. However, by reaching out to them, you would potentially be able to ignite the connection and make it thrive. The reason these forms of connections are so powerful is that, according to research, “weak-tie connections” are most often responsible for contributing important and informative insight with a fresh and un-biased perspective. In other words, they help us think outside the box!
By now, we’ve determined that most women prefer more intimate ways of connecting and that we should focus on strategic networking comprised of a wide array of people with diverse backgrounds, specialties, and interests. Now what? How do we tap into this wisdom for our own personal and professional growth?
Authentic Networking at Work
Since many women feel that they lack to time and desire to network, it’s important to use a platform that works for you! Yes, there are indeed various platforms one can access to network! Moreover, what you need to ask yourself is what platform will be most beneficial to you? To answer this question, you need to reflect on the type of person you are. Shy? Gregarious? Attention-seeking? Quiet? If you’re an outgoing, bubbly person, then maybe traditional face-to-face networking is best. However, if you’re more on the shy and introverted side, you may want to leverage social media forums to connect with people.
Since I wanted my voice to be heard and I wanted to connect with like-minded women on personal leadership issues, I chose the latter. A few years ago, I started a women’s leadership blog called Step Up. I knew that I wanted to gather a group of women together to share ideas, thoughts, and perspectives on the topics of women’s personal leadership and empowerment. One day, I created a private Facebook discussion forum and I invited several women to join. Shortly thereafter, more women joined in on the conversation, sharing quotes, articles, inspirational videos and the like. The group is still going strong today and growing each week. My hope is that one day we will finally meet face-to-face. But for now, we are all enjoying each other’s virtual company. This virtual forum is my strategic network. It’s comprised of many women from diverse and interesting backgrounds who share a common interest and present their points of view according to their varying situations. They are also a wonderful sounding board and a valuable source of strength and support. I feel authentic connecting with them and sharing ideas. This is what authentic networking looks like and feels like to me. It has the power to not only open doors, but to also uplift and move you in new and exciting directions.
Do you take some time to network or is the concept of networking totally off your radar? If you had the opportunity to carve out your personal networking plan, what would it look like? What format would you use?
Did you know???