By Alex

The power of connections: 4 tips for executive networking

You probably haven’t made it to the executive level without understanding the importance of networking. You know firsthand that a solid web of professional connections can be what helps you secure your next opportunity, score a valuable introduction, or achieve another meaningful goal. 

But here’s the thing about networking: You’re never actually done doing it. No, not even when you’re near the top of the ladder. If you want to reap the benefits through every stage of your career, it requires consistent effort and commitment.

So if you haven’t flexed your networking muscles in a while, it’s time to brush up your skills and continue forging these valuable professional relationships. 

Here are four executive-level networking tips to help you continue to strike up these strong and beneficial bonds. 

1. Understand a network vs. an audience

In today’s digital world, a lot of networking takes place online—on LinkedIn, in industry forums, with carefully-crafted cold emails, and more. That’s especially true as executives continue to invest in their own personal brands, with 80% of marketing executives saying they’re actively developing their own brands.

These online outlets offer a lot of convenience, accessibility, and even notoriety, but they’ve also made it far too easy to conflate having a network with having an audience. In reality, there’s a distinct difference: 

  • Your network is a curated group of close connections who know you well.

  • Your audience is a group of followers who might keep tabs on what you’re doing but aren’t necessarily personally involved or invested.

Do both a network and an audience have value? Of course. But your network is built on real relationships while your audience is built on spectators.

Keep in mind that networking isn’t about hoarding a lot of empty or meaningless LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers. True networking is about forging connections with people who are rooting for your success—and are even willing to take action to help you get there. 

2. Be proactive and consistent

Networking is always top of mind when you’re in need of something like a job lead or an introduction to someone notable in your industry. 

But networking can’t only be a priority in desperate times—it’s something that requires an investment in time, energy, and resources even when you’re happy with your current job or don’t have an immediate need for other assistance or advice.

Despite the fact that the word “networking” alone likely triggers visions of name tags and robotically-rehearsed elevator pitches, at its core, it’s simply relationship building. And that’s something that executives need to do routinely—and not just in a pinch. Research even proves that, the more senior your position, the more you need to rely on relationships to move your own ideas and your initiatives forward. 

3. Offer value

Servant leadership—an approach where you place the needs of others above your own—has been oft-cited as the superior leadership style in recent years. You can apply the same mindset to your networking relationships.

In a seemingly dog eat dog working world, it’s tempting to think that humans were hardwired for competition and selfishness, but some science indicates that we’re actually innately cooperative.

Lean into that side of yourself when networking. Rather than thinking of ways you can extract as much value as possible out of the relationship, think about what you can bring to the table for the other person. You’ll avoid making people feel taken advantage of and build more trusting relationships that will pay off in the long run. 

4. Think broadly

It’s easy to think narrowly about who you should be networking with. You set your sights on people at your same level or above who can help you find your next opportunity or push you to the next rung of the ladder.

But that exclusive mindset could limit you from connecting with some valuable and knowledgeable people who could help you hone a new skill or explore a different business area or unlock opportunity that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. 

Those are people and opportunities you would’ve missed out on if you maintained a restrictive perception of who could be most helpful to you. Think big and broad. 

Embracing the classic “who you know” cliché

We likely don’t need to beat you over the head with the importance of networking—but a cultivated network can be there for you when you find yourself at a crossroads, facing headwinds, looking for a resource lever to pull. 

While you’d like to think networking would be second nature, it is actually a skill to be developed to ensure your long term success.

Put the above tips into play and you’ll not only establish valuable bonds with professional contacts—you likely will uncover opportunity for you and your network.