Date posted: 6/09/2017 6 min read

Mastering networking - how to build connections that matter

It’s the small, strategic and smart networks that business leaders build around themselves and pursue with conviction that count the most.

In Brief

  • First impressions count, then it’s all about engaging your personal network on a deeper level.
  • Executives who rank in the top 20 per cent of their companies in performance and wellbeing have diverse but select networks of high-quality relationships.
  • Experts say that humans can comfortably maintain only about 150 relationships.

By Janine Garner

Networking is essential for business growth and personal success. Yet the adage “it’s not what you know - it’s who you know” seems to carry much more weight in this 21st century world of busyness.

These days, jobs can be filled before they are advertised and previously unthought-of collaborations appear out of nowhere to create new and competitive markets and steal market share. 

Sure, networking still matters – but it’s the network that leaders build around themselves that matters more.

Executives who rank in the top 20 per cent of their companies in both performance and wellbeing have diverse but select networks of high-quality relationships up and down the corporate hierarchy, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review called ‘Managing Yourself, A Smarter Way To Network’.

 Here are five key ways to master the art of building a network that works.

1. Get clear on you

First of all, take ownership and get clear on your goals and dreams, so you can make the right decisions and meet the right people to take you there. It’s about:

  • understanding your values so you can consistently walk your talk
  • identifying your strengths so you can share them
  • owning your weaknesses so you can seek help on them
  • being yourself, so you can be authentic and true

When you get clear on ‘You’ and network with conviction, opportunities are created, value is exchanged, influence is increased and connections become transformational.  

2. Identify the critical few

There’s a limit to the number of relationships humans can comfortably maintain – 150 to be precise – according to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. This allows us to maintain stable relationships, remember each other’s names, keep in contact and do each other favours. Anything larger than this, he said, results in the creation of other sub-groups and tribes.

Momentum, however, starts with a significantly smaller circle of influence. It’s about engaging your personal network on a deeper level, putting you right in the middle of a network that connects you to people and information that matters for your growth and personal success. It’s about being small, strategic and smart and ensuring you have these key people to support you: 

  • Promoter – your personal champion and inspiration
  • Pit Crew – who keep you on track and nurture you
  • Teacher – who expand your knowledge and wisdom and push you to know more every day
  • Butt-kicker – who hold you accountable for your actions and decisions

3. First impressions do count

The importance of making a first impression cannot be overestimated, because first impressions influence later impressions. As James Uleman, a professor of psychology at New York University explains: “You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgements are being made and impressions are being formed all the time”.  

Whether we like it or not, appearance is our first filter – whether in person or online.  Everything on the outside contributes to others’ impression of you.  So make it a good one and take control.

4. Become an action taker

If you say you are going to do something, follow through and do it – this is a non-negotiable when it comes to networking mastery. When you have spent time with someone, engaging in conversation and exchanging value, then you must make sure your words align with your actions. Your ability to nurture your network, to leverage conversations, to constantly give back and deliver will build the relationship over time.

5. Exchange value 

Value exchange requires trust, faith and the ability to truly engage in conversation, to be switched into the needs of others and to be curious about how you can help. The cross-fertilisation of intelligence and sharing of skills and knowledge means each party involved gains knowledge, information and eventually perhaps even financial reward for their involvement, but the priority is the sharing of information, the connections that are made and the network that is built. When you learn to share openly with others with no expectation of anything in return, then everyone benefits. It’s the two-way street of powerful networking.  

It was Richard Branson that said: ‘Nobody can be successful alone’ and in our fast-moving business world, a network that works is critical to fast-track personal and business success. Choose to network wisely, building a circle of influence that allows transformational connections to be nurtured and business growth opportunities to be fostered.  

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