I am an advocate of robust and well-maintained personal networks. Too often, though, the business press has viewed networks as the property of salespeople. Even “Never Eat Alone,” the best single guide to building networks, primarily focuses on their benefits for deal-making.
I’m here to tell you that a good personal network is a strong asset whether you’re a corporate executive, an engineer or a human-resources professional.
And if you don’t believe me, listen to the Harvard Business Review. In the January issue, two different articles discuss the benefit of networks. In “How Leaders Create And Use Networks” (link to abstract), Profs. Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter of INSEAD assert that “strategic networking” is an essential component of leadership. Strategic networking is a longer-view, integrated network of friends/colleagues/mentors/proteges, as opposed to more tactical workgroup-oriented operational networks and casual personal networks. Hunter and Ibarra say,
As they step up to the leadership transition, some managers accept their growing dependence on others and seek to transform it into mutual influence. Others dismiss such work as “political” and, as a result, undermine their ability to advance their goals.
Another article, “Firing Back” (link to abstract) by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale and Andrew Ward of the University of Georgia, discusses the value of strong networks for fired executives. Paradoxically, more distant connections were more useful in positioning the executive for her next job than closer connections. Say Sonnenfeld and Ward,
Through the power of acquaintance networks, you can reach almost anyone within a few steps. Thus, distant acquaintances that don’t appear to have any connection to you may prove key to your recovery when you are trying to get back on your feet.
So keep that address book up to date and, better yet, stay in touch. It’ll do more for your career than kissing butt, and it’s more fun besides.