The Isolated Leader

Mention ‘networking’ and most people think of it as a necessary evil for job hunting, or, if they are in professional services, for business development. Far fewer people think about internal networking, but as the business world accelerates, it’s more important than ever.

“The problem is,” one CEO confided, “I was hired from outside, as were many of my team. I don’t know enough of the right people in the company: the people who can help me make the decisions I need to make. I don’t have a direct informal line to get the straight scoop.

“It means I don’t know enough about our capabilities, or know how to get the organization to do things quickly.

“I get stuck in my corner office. I spend a lot of time with my CFO, the board, the bankers and probably not enough with my vice-presidents.

“I love it when I go to our technology centre and meet some of our younger engineers, but it’s rare, and of course their managers make sure they put on a show for me, so I don’t have ‘real’ conversations.

“My direct reports feel it too. One time, we wanted to find out if a strategic initiative was feasible: it seemed a great idea, but was it pie in the sky? My EVP admitted he didn’t know who to ask. We have no shortage of experts, but we don’t know who they are!”

In truth, many senior executives are internally networked extremely poorly. Often they have been hired directly into the role from outside the organization, or they’ve been promoted from a silo and don’t know people in the rest of the business.

The organization then conspires to insulate them further. Other people take control of their calendars. The pattern of quarterly reviews, investor meetings, top team meetings and one-to-ones with direct reports means they end up spending time away from employees, away from customers, and—a big threat to innovation—away from supply-chain partners.

Unless executives take conscious control of their internal networking, they’ll easily get caught in a bubble. They can’t pull the levers that would accelerate execution of their strategies. They can’t reality-test new ideas. They don’t have the trust they need. They can even be blind-sided by reputation-threatening ethical violations.

So let me plug my new book, co-authored with Helga Henry. It’s called NetworkAbility: How to build your business one relationship at a time. It lays out communication and planning skills road-tested with thousands of professionals, MBA students and entrepreneurs. Yes, it’s a complete guide to networking for business development and for career-building. And Chapters 10 & 11 also show you how to create a Well-Networked Firm, both externally and internally. Visit the book’s page on my website here.

Whether you investigate the book or not, let me urge you to pay conscious attention to cultivating a network throughout your business. Here’s a quick way to get started:

Step 1: Ask yourself: “What are the crucial decisions for which I am going to need input, collaboration, and ambassadors to spread the word?”

Step 2: Ask: “What kinds of people do I need to know to help with these decisions?” Aim to get a good coverage of age, function, level and lines of business.

Step 3: Identify the key gaps between the network you have and your ideal network. Be sure to focus in on ‘network multipliers’ – key people who can provide a gateway into significant sub-groups.

Step 4: Schedule network building activities to make a significant difference over a 60 day sprint. To maximise motivation and a great pay-off, be sure to set measures of progress and record the value you gain in terms of increased knowledge and influence.


Further reading