Adaptability and agility have been widely credited with helping businesses that have endured over the past year and a half, but if pressed, most leaders would add another essential element: a strong network. Having a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds, industries and areas of expertise to lean on can help any leader navigate their organization successfully through difficult circumstances, while they, in turn, help the members of their network with their own knowledge and abilities.
This system of working together to offer mutual support has been called the “relationship economy.” It’s the recognition that every person in a network has unique strengths to bring to the table to solve problems or build better communities and that each member of the network stands a better chance of surviving and thriving when all members help each other. Below, 12 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share essential tips to help leaders and professionals build and maintain a strong network.
1. Be authentic.
It can be tempting to “force it” when you know a relationship may be of significant value to you. That can do more harm than good, including to your emotional well-being. Seek to serve. Your product or service is valuable. Providing a deep, listening ear can ensure you find the right ways to serve, whether or not that service provides an immediate, direct benefit to you. – Cheryl Williams, Hudgins Williams Associates
2. Look for people who aren’t just like you.
Building and maintaining strong relationships is incredibly valuable. The greatest value comes when those relationships are with people who aren’t just like you — people from different industries, functions, backgrounds, parts of the world and personal experiences. The greater the variety in the relationships you maintain, the greater your opportunity to give and get value. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting
3. Think about who’s not in your network now.
You build your network before you need it. So think deeply. Who is someone who’s not in your network currently but whom you may need one day — maybe an attorney, a banker or a marketer? Or an HR expert, a photographer or a real estate agent? Build those connections now — when you’re not desperate — so you can leverage them later when the chips are down. – Sam Davidson, Batch
4. Focus on giving first.
Growing your relationships takes time and effort. You will need to engage more times than over one lunch or round of golf. Quality relationships are built on a deeper connection and value creation. Individuals who focus on giving first tend to build more meaningful relationships. Focus on repeated, positive interactions with a person to create valuable connections. – E. Tanner Milne, Menlo Group Commercial Real Estate
5. Offer and accept support.
Nothing great is accomplished alone. Reaching out to our networks, connecting and asking, “How can I help you?” or, “What is your biggest challenge right now?” are ways we can support one another. Often it’s hard for us to ask for help; however, the power of networks, friends and people who are experts at the things we are not gives us the ability to solve problems and grow. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC
6. Nurture your relationships.
If you haven’t talked to someone in 10 years and you suddenly call them to ask a favor or to make an introduction, that’s less genuine than if you just saw them for dinner a couple of months ago and you’ve kept in touch that whole time. Stay close and invest in your relationships. – Mary-Cathryn Kolb, brrrº
7. Always be networking.
Take every opportunity to add people you meet — even if it is just virtually or via a phone call — to your network. Every new connection you make will open up opportunities in the future. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology
8. Set up an ‘equity cadence.’
Relationships require investments of equity over time to become strong. Equity consists of touch points, advice, assistance and overall support. Make a 2 x 2 box and write “Daily,” “Weekly,” “Monthly” and “Quarterly” in the boxes. Now make a list of current or desired stakeholders. Map your list across the boxes to determine the right cadence to be able to maintain the relationship. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates
9. Embrace virtual interactions.
Relationships can be nurtured from past in-person interactions; however, there can also be a wide variety of relationships that develop from today’s video meetings. This “face-to-face” virtual interaction can also be effective for forming a new bond. Know that things are continuously changing, so it’s important to be adaptable and flexible with interactions moving forward. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
10. Build personal connections, not transactional ones.
Relationships are not drive-by sales pitches or LinkedIn requests. It requires a level of care and attention to maintain and build personal connections with others. I don’t ever want my relationships with anyone to feel transactional or like I’m trying to get something out of them for my benefit. I believe that everyone, no matter their job title, has something valuable to offer. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software
11. Lead with service.
Helping others is great social currency. Making an introduction or putting in a good word for a friend who is applying to an associate’s firm are great, simple ways to lead with service. Folks don’t remember what you know; they remember how you make them feel. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management
12. Build trust one step at a time.
Relationships take work. What you put into the relationship is what you will get out of the relationship. Trust is the beginning of the relationship, and trust starts one step at a time — meaning one phone call, one problem solved, one success at a time. Line upon line, step upon step, trust is built. So work hard and spend time on the relationship. – David Wescott, Transblue