One of my favourite aspects of attending big events like the Toastmasters 2019 Convention. In Denver, is catching up with peers and acquaintances from all over the world. More than educational sessions, training, and trophies. The real value of these events lies in the connections we build and maintain. Yet, once upon a time I was shy and hated networking. While I wouldn’t call myself the greatest networker out there, networking played a huge part in my leadership journey during these few years.
There is nothing wrong with networking
For a long time, my younger self considered networking to be wrong or ‘under-handed’. In my mind, networking was all about using favours to gain an unfair advantage over others. This perception is wrong because it assumes that networking is planned and executed in an almost conspiratorial way. In reality, most networking happens in a somewhat unstructured and unplanned manner. For example, in Denver, a discussion on our respective goals with a peer-led to a suggestion that we should have monthly calls. Both of us had only met half an hour before and neither started the conversation to gain an advantage over others. It was the opposite!
Looking back, I developed most of my network within Toastmasters by accident. Chats during meetings and over drinks led to connections and links. This network helped me countless times in the past few years and is one of the drivers behind some of my leadership successes.
Networking is knowledge
If I had to boil down what I gained from networking in one word, knowledge would be the word. Through my network, I can access the knowledge and expertise that I lack on certain topics. Within my network, I can find people who can assist others with specific tasks or projects. This knowledge enables me to get more done indirectly or to fulfil certain tasks or goals. According to a famous saying, ‘Knowledge is power’ and networking can go a long way in strengthening one’s powers as a leader.
Similarly, networking can provide exposure to new ideas and to different ways to tackle a problem. If you’re experiencing a challenge, someone somewhere has experienced the same one. Some of the best ideas often come from unlikely places. For example, the famous “pizza challenge” I introduced as a senior leader in Toastmasters came from an American colleague who was by many metrics facing more challenges than I was. On this occasion, the network opened my eyes to new knowledge and new ways of solving problems and a successful initiative resulted.
How to make the most of it
While I still have much to learn in terms of networking. This section will provide a few tips on how you too can become a better networker and leverage your network for leadership success.
- Listen attentively – When meeting someone new, listen carefully to what they are saying and try to refer back to what you heard earlier in the conversation. Asking open-ended questions can help in that regard.
- Be observant – You can learn a lot about someone by observing what they do, how they act and they perform. This can be very useful if you want to add subject matter experts or specialists to your network.
- Follow-up with your contacts – A crucial but often forgotten step. When coming home with dozens of business cards, catalogue them in a way that works for you and follow-up with anybody you clicked with.