Interpersonal Networking Skills Make Leaders More Effective
By Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., Vice President, Global Research and Development, Wilson Learning Worldwide
Managing and leading in today’s organizations is growing more difficult. More products are coming to market faster, partnerships among companies in different industries are increasing, global expansion has created huge multinational companies, and trends toward matrix management and cross-functional teams are accelerating.
All of this makes communication more important, and your people’s—especially your leaders’—interpersonal networks are vital to organizational success. Technology-based communications systems will only take you so far; ultimately it comes down to the development of trusting relationships among colleagues.
Networking Supports Success
Research indicates that successful managers spend 70 percent more time networking than their less successful counterparts, and that people with rich social networks are better informed, more creative, more efficient, and better problem-solvers than those with limited social networks. Why does networking make leaders more successful? Effective networkers can access the people, information, and resources they need to identify problems and potential solutions and get things done. By having a trusted set of advisors and advocates, effective networkers make better decisions faster and are more likely to have support for their ideas and plans.
Your leaders’ skills at creating effective interpersonal networks will have a significant impact on your organization’s success. Yet studies show that most managers are not comfortable developing their network of relationships. In fact, research at the Stanford Shyness Institute suggests that almost 60 percent of young adults have difficulty in social settings. Given that business networking is positively associated with salary growth, number of promotions, perceived career success, and job satisfaction, this finding is troubling. Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon, leading experts in networking skills, have boiled the research down to eight critical skills needed for effective social networking.
8 Critical Networking Skills:
- Understand and leverage personal style: Networking is not just for the extrovert. Introverts can be just as effective at developing interpersonal networks; they just do it in a different way.
- Strategically target your activities: Not all networking events or organizations are equal; you need to determine which events will give you the best return on your investment.
- Systematically plan networking: Meaningful connections don’t just happen—planning activities, evaluating experiences, and anticipating next moves lead to great connections.
- Develop relationships over time: You don’t meet someone today and become their trusted advisor tomorrow. You need to learn how to build relationships and who to build them with.
- Engage others effectively: Sure, laughing and socializing with others is fun, but it is not how you create effective business networks. You need to learn how to engage meaningfully, remember people’s names, and make sure they remember yours.
- Showcase your expertise: You can learn to talk about your accomplishments and skills without coming across as a braggart, and it is essential to do so if you are going to have an effective network.
- Assess opportunities: Easy to join, hard to leave—it is essential that you evaluate your networking experiences relative to your changing goals and decide when to get more involved and when to exit gracefully.
- Deliver value: At its core, networking is an exchange of value—whether it is time, information, or your talents. You need to be able to recognize what you have to give, as well as what you want to get.
These eight skills reflect a comprehensive body of knowledge that gives leaders the skills they need to immediately begin to build organizational and personal success. For individual leaders, effective networking can lead to faster salary growth, more promotions, and greater career success. Organizations can achieve better performance, have more effective employees, and bring products to market faster if they devote time and effort to building effective networking skills.
- The Little Book of Big Networking Ideas,N. Bilchik, 2006.
- Foundation of Social Theory,Colman, 1990. Harvard University Press.
- Effects of networking on career success: A longitudinal study, Wolff and Moser. 2009, Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(1), 196-206.
- Managerial level and sub-unit function as determinants of networking behavior in organizations. Michael and Yukl, 1993, Group and Organizational Management, 18, 328-351.
- Importance of relationship management of the career success of Australian managers, Langford, 2000, Australian Journal of Psychology, 52, 163-168.
- Developing Business Leaders for 2010,Barret and Beeson, 2010, The Conference Board.
- The social side of performance, Cross, Davenport, and Cantrell, 2003, MIT Sloan Management Review.
- A social capital theory of career success, Seibert, Kraimer, and Liden, 2001, Academy of Management Journal, April.
- Shyness, social anxiety, and social anxiety disorder, L. Henderson and P. Zimbardo, 2010, In S. G. Hofmann & P. M. DiBartolo (Eds.), Social Anxiety: Clinical, Developmental, and Social Perspectives (2nd Ed.), Academic Press.
Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., is vice president of Global Research and Design for Wilson Learning Worldwide. With more than 25 years in the field, Dr. Leimbach provides leadership for researching and designing Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities. Dr. Leimbach has managed major research studies in sales, leadership, and organizational effectiveness. He has developed Wilson Learning’s Impact Evaluation capability and return on investment models. Dr. Leimbach has served as a research consultant for a wide variety of global client organizations; is on the editorial board for the ADHR professional journal; and serves in a leadership role for the ISO technical committee, TC232: Standards for Learning Service Providers; and has co-authored four books. To learn more about the concepts shared within this article and how Wilson Learning can assist you in addressing these issues, contact Wilson Learning at 800.328.7937 or visit www.wilsonlearning-americas.com.