If you read this column regularly, you know that I’ve been exploring the five dimensions of “Centered Leadership” as defined by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston in “How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life.” So far, I have covered “meaning,” “framing,” and part of “connecting.” I promised last week to continue the discussion of connecting—much of which focused on the importance of networking—by outlining some of the ways that we can build and strengthen our networks.
You may remember the chart that we might use to map out our contacts according to how comfortable we feel with them and how influential they are. The best contacts are people with whom we feel a high degree of comfort and who enjoy significant influence.
So how can we expand that group? To answer that question, we need to ask another one: What can we give? That question raises perhaps the most important issue that Barsh and Cranston have to make about women and networking. That issue is what they call reciprocity, a topic that goes to the heart of women’s unease about networking. Because we don’t feel as though we should “use” our relationships to advance ourselves, we shy away from taking advantage of the networks we have.
It turns out, however, that we are looking at this issue all wrong. Instead of thinking about what we will get from the relationship, we need to think about what we can give. What do we have to offer that might interest the other person? Approaching networking in that way changes the whole dynamic. Carolyn Buck Luce, a senior executive at Ernst & Young and a leading advocate for women, explains, “women have the formula backward. Here we have this natural ability to give and we aren’t giving. My idea of strategic alliances unblocks that. You’re initiating a valued exchange. I’m interested in what you’re doing. You might be interested in what I’m doing. Let’s share information. You never know when we might need each other.” [i]
Be a good listener and be alert for clues to what someone is interested in and then think about some of ways in which you might be able to be helpful to an important contact. Some of the specific tactics they suggest include the following.
- Your own know-how or knowledge: Is there information that you have or have access to that would be helpful?
- Your network: Do you know people who could be helpful resources?
- Your radar: Do have a perspective or your finger on the pulse that might be useful?
- Your time: Time is a precious commodity; if you have some excess can you volunteer to help out, especially if doing so gets you closer to someone you are trying to get to know.
- Your ear: Can you offer to be a sounding board, an invaluable aid to leaders?
- Family assistance: Is there something you can do that would support a member of another person’s family? We all value people who help those we care about most.
- Your questions: This is like being a sounding board. Can you formulate questions that could be helpful in advancing thinking (though you don’t want to be annoying or challenging, which might turn someone off).
- Your resourcefulness: Be creative about how you might help.
- Your open offer: This is a last resort since when you offer to help without being specific, you create work for the other person to think about how to avail themselves of your offer. [ii]
We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we actually have something worthwhile to offer. Barsh and Cranston don’t address this issue, but I think as women we may underestimate the value we might have. We are also very afraid of being pushy. But it’s all in the delivery and we do have valuable knowledge, connections, ideas, etc. that can be very useful. We think nothing of helping a friend by picking up a child, making dinners when someone is sick, giving a tip about a great new shop, or offering a referral for a good doctor. We need to translate that mindset into a professional milieu.
Just as we probably do in other aspects of our lives, we need to develop habits of reciprocity. Keeping score undermines the value of the exercise. At least some of the generosity will pay off at some point. Plus, if we approach being interested, nice, and helpful for its own sake, we will be happier ourselves and we will avoid the negative emotions we associate with a quid pro quo.
To flourish, networks need to be nurtured—which means staying in touch. That takes time, but it’s time well spent (and time that men are more likely to spend than women). One of Barsh and Cranston’s featured women, Amanda West, Chief Innovation Officer for Thomson Reuters, schedules 90 minutes a week to “Call People,” as the entry in her calendar says. Carolyn Buck Luce of Ernst & Young has what she calls her Board of Directors, half a dozen individuals she considers her role models. She actually asks these people, each of whom “has a purpose and a skill [she] value[s]” to serve on her board. She relies on them when she wants “to be reflective” both about professional and personal issues. [iii] Before you say this is a crazy idea, think how flattered you’d be if someone asked you to serve on her personal board of directors.
In the process of building a network, we should be looking for mentors and sponsors. We all know what mentors are: they guide us and offer advice. They are helpful, but sponsors are even more helpful and important. So what is the difference? “First, mentors dispense wisdom whereas sponsors get involved. Second, a sponsor believes in you; a mentor may not go that far.” [iv] Sponsors will protect you in difficult situations (you still need to do your job, but they will have your back). They will sing your praises and even advocate for you if you’re being unfairly evaluated. This is especially important for women who still find themselves caught between being considered strident and self-serving if they are too self-promoting, but who also receive criticism for not promoting themselves. A sponsor can do that promoting for you. They can help you navigate the hidden landmines that exist in every organization. Because sponsorship rests on trust, you should be receptive to feedback from a sponsor—you know that he or she has your best interests at heart. It will probably take a while to find a true sponsor, but doing so can make all the difference in one’s career. And those of us in a position to do so should actively pursue the role of sponsor for younger women. In doing so, we can make a significant difference in their lives and careers, and help ensure that society and the economy actually benefits from the talents our sponsorees have to offer.
Ruth Porat, Vice Chair of Morgan Stanley, observes that, “One of the biggest problems women have is they work really hard and put their heads down and assume hard work gets noticed.” Unfortunately, hard work doesn’t always get noticed or we don’t get the credit for it we deserve. We’re not in school anymore, a place where hard work generally does get noticed and rewarded. We need to accept that we need to cultivate relationships that will help us leverage our hard work to the places we want to go. Networking is how we do that.
It might interest you to know that Holton’s Alumnae Board recognizes the importance of networking. Beginning in June of 2011, the Alumnae Board has hosted a series of networking events. Our graduates are already part of a powerful network of fellow Holton alumnae who always stand ready to assist their sisters. These networking events help participants learn how to maximize the value of that network as well as build beyond it. The next event, “Find a Way or Make One”: Building on Your Strengths to Develop Your Career and Life, will take place on June 14. All those women of influence—what more could you ask for to help you find success in life?
[i] Barsh and Cranston, 317.
[ii] Barsh and Cranston, 301-5.
[iii] Barsh and Cranston, 318.
[iv] Barsh and Cranston, 332.
Friday May, 25, 2012 at 11:28AM