Here’s the bad news: it’s no longer enough to simply be great at your job.
Here’s the good news: there’s a whole world waiting out there to help you shine.
English poet John Donne coined the phrase ‘No man is an island’ – and, over the centuries, it has become a byword for a need to connect with other people in all areas of life and avoid becoming isolated, like a castaway on an island.
Nowhere is this truer than in the complex world of global business where leaders must inspire, influence, and engage through the relationships they build both internally and externally. Leaders need networks to get things done.
It used to be said that, as a leader, it was what and who you knew that made you great. That’s no longer enough to build a career in a complex global organization and global market. It is also a question of what other people know about you.
If you are not known, or not connected, then your outstanding skills and experience remain undiscovered and unused. You need a network of people, at all levels, that listen to you, are willing to act and advocate for you…and who believe in you. This doesn’t just benefit your current job either. Your network will be the ones that think of you when promotion opportunities arise too.
Building strategic networks are particularly important in businesses with matrix management systems where individuals need to be able to influence others without necessarily having management authority over them.
I have a client, Ron, who is a regional president, based in Shanghai. Although he has a high-performing team, he was finding that they were struggling to deliver results when they needed to engage with other functions. After a while, he decided to stop putting pressure on his team to solve this problem and instead proactively built stronger relationships with his own peers at a senior level in other functions.
“I invited all the functional heads to a ‘Strategy Day’ where each of them shared their goals, priorities, and challenges openly. During the session, we developed a common scorecard that enables us to share the glories and the challenges of achieving results. This has transformed working relationships further down the ranks of the business. Cross-functional teams are now motivated to collaborate and support each other.” Ron told me. “We have created interdependency among cross-functional teams and a more balanced eco-system in the organization.”
How well are you doing in building your strategic network? Ask yourself.
- What are the unique attributes or skills that make me a valuable member of someone’s global network?
- If there were one thing I would like leadership to know better about me, what would it be?
- Have I connected in a meaningful way with leaders outside of my immediate functional area? If so, how am I building and leveraging these connections? If not, what can I do about it?
- Do you feel secure in your connections with the internal and external contacts that will help you to grow, deliver and thrive in your role…or are you standing alone on the shores of your island, looking to the horizon?
In the latest of my 100 top tips for Global Leaders are my five tips for assessing and developing your global network.
- Get it down on paper: Take a sheet of paper and list all of your key working relationships. Anyone who is critical to your professional success both in the long term and on a daily basis. This could include senior management, customers, key suppliers, managers and directors, peers, direct reports, and team members a couple of levels down the organization.
- Be honest with yourself: Using a big picture, ‘helicopter-view’ approach, ask yourself honestly what the quality of each of those relationships is like. Rate them on a 1-5 scale where one is a negative relationship, three is neutral and five is a positive, trusted relationship. This process of self-reflection can be challenging but it is important to do it honestly.
- Build a plan: For each person, note down a plan to improve or nurture the relationship. For internal networks this might include inviting a colleague to lunch once every two months, getting involved with cross-functional projects and committees, etc. To build your external network, why not ask a mutual contact to introduce you to the person you want to meet? Always follow up with new acquaintances and look for opportunities to turn an introduction into a meaningful connection that is beneficial on both sides. You could also get more involved in global and cross-functional projects, or join professional industry associations.
- Give of yourself and your skills: To flourish, relationships must offer genuine, mutual benefit and enrichment. However when you’re going out to build a new relationship, try to make the first move. Offer information, assistance, or other help to your new contact so that they view you as someone who will be a positive new contact in their working life. Over time this should become reciprocal if it is to be a relationship that is valuable to you.
- Find a mentor: Secure a mentor from within your organization, someone who has experiences, skills, or contacts that can help you grow. A great mentor will not only be a trusted advisor they will be an advocate, someone who believes in your ability. Many global businesses have specific mentoring programs that you can tap into but, even if there isn’t one where you are, think about the leaders in your business. Who could you learn from spending time with? If you are known to them ask them if they would be your mentor – or ask a mutual colleague to introduce you.
As in any aspect of life, new business relationships are always fragile at the start, but if you nurture them, something wonderful may grow. So if you feel isolated in your leadership position, as we all do from time to time, the moment has come to reach out and make some important connections.
In other words – build your raft and get paddling!