Australian Institute of Management -- Management Today
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Master networkers are individuals who realise that networking is a life skill, not just something you do when you want something. Their networking includes connecting with different cultures, ages, special interests groups and networks. They are constantly making strong connections, following up, keeping in touch, identifying and making contact with spheres of influence, and forming win–win strategic alliances and mastermind groups.
Master networkers have much to teach leaders at any level about building influence. In fact, if you are not a master networker, it is highly unlikely that you will be an effective leader or have any substantial influence in your networks, communities or workplace.
However, influence gained through forming strong networks, and by becoming a sphere of influence, can be a two-edged sword. Master networkers understand that their ongoing success depends on treating their networks and the people within them with respect and integrity. This is one of the reasons why building networks takes time, effort and, most of all, sincerity.
The networking world is open to everyone, without exception, as long as your networking values are strong, ethical and transparent.
Great networkers make great leaders because they have unlocked the potential of networking in their busy lives. They have created simple systems that enable them to connect with others, stay connected and create valuable lifetime connections with key players, spheres of influence and other master networkers.
Great networkers are not born, they are created. And it need not be a complex process. The great news is that anyone can improve their networking and influencing skills. The networking world is open to everyone, without exception, as long as your networking values are strong, ethical and transparent. This chapter will show you how to create and maintain strategic alliances and mastermind groups and become a master networker who positively influences many connections within valuable networks.
Many people think that networking is something that you do, rather than a way that you live. Networking is a life skill, rather than something you do only when you want something.
The basic principles of networking discussed here are based on the following three universal laws:
Great networkers also make heart-to-heart connections with people when they talk to them. They listen with their hearts as well as their ears – they are totally focused on the person in front them, regardless of whether they think that person could be a prospect, client, new friend or just someone to add to their network. They realise that every person they connect with forms part of their networking jigsaw, and every stranger has the potential to become an important connection within that network.
Great networkers network ethically, professionally and courteously – aware that every best friend was once a perfect stranger, and that you never know who that stranger in front of you actually has in their network. The basic philosophy of great networkers is to treat everyone the way they would like to be treated.
The more people you know, the more people you can influence, either positively or negatively. People who work at developing strong clusters of networks across a broad cross-section of interests, age groups, demographics and cultures can often wield enormous positive or negative influence. These people are often referred to as master networkers and spheres of influence.
One of the challenges in our time-poor society is that many of us can’t be bothered investing the time required to work at and create new networks. It is so much easier and a great time saver to stick to the networks that we know and feel comfortable with. Our comfort zone becomes very safe and non-threatening. However, it is also very limiting and the potential for influencing large numbers is almost nonexistent – unless our smaller networkers are themselves filled with key spheres of influence who can network on our behalf.
One definition of people who are spheres of influence is ‘someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about one or two areas’. They often specialise in one area, while having a good general knowledge of many areas. They are very good at keeping in touch with their networks, they remember what is ‘special’ and unique about individuals, and they are generally extremely good communicators.
Smart networkers work at creating relationships with spheres of influence; they know that a positive word about them from one of these key players carries a lot of weight and influence. Bill Gates has spoken of a trilogy of trust – the trust that one person has in another, that is then passed on to the third party.1 For example, Bob knows, likes and trusts Sue, who knows likes and trusts John. Based on this two-way trust, Bob will be open to discussions or possible connections with John, even though John has never previously had contact with Bob.
The power to influence others is highly regarded and rarely abused by ethical networkers. This is one of the main reasons why building networks takes time, effort and, most of all, sincerity. Master networkers can smell insincerity from a mile away; they quickly identify people who want to use them, use their good name and benefit from associating with them.
It goes without saying that networking and influence are more effective when coupled with ethics and morals. Often when I am faced with a ‘will I, won’t I?’ dilemma (for example, ‘Is this a good career or business move or might it come back to bite me?’), I take what I call the Sydney Morning Herald test (substitute the name of your favourite daily newspaper): If this incident or situation appeared on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, would I be embarrassed in any way, and would I need to do some serious explaining to my family and friends?
If the answer is yes, I don’t do it. Why? It takes years and years to build your reputation and good name, whether you are an employee or an employer – why risk your good name on anything that might, even remotely, be or be perceived to be unethical, illegal or lacking integrity. (Though, as an observation, our newspapers and magazines would have nothing to write about if everyone asked themselves the Sydney Morning Herald question before taking action!).
One of the quickest ways to damage your reputation is to treat your connections, or those of others, as a short-term, saleable item.
Many people try to take short cuts by buying their way into, or paying for access to an established network, usually for sales purposes. ‘Buying a network’ is rarely successful, and can result in the people within the network resenting both the seller and the person who ‘sold’ the network. I am sure that you, like me, have accepted an invitation from someone you know through your network to attend a social event or supposed business meeting, only to find that you are there to be ‘sold to’ – usually by an unknown third party. You may well be interested in the third party’s product or service. The point is that you are there under false pretences.
Please note that I am not saying you should never try to gain access to an existing network, whether for direct sales purposes or to create and build relationships with a target group. What is important is how you do so. The following are some guidelines to help you do so without jeopardising your reputation with potential clients.
Tips for ethically accessing a target network
Finally, always remember that if you don’t value your networks you won’t have them for long.
If you are seeking to be more influential, there is much you can learn from the six strategies of master networkers:
One of the greatest opportunities for influence can arise when you build a strong connection with someone who trusts you.
If you build a connection and trust with another person, it is natural for them to speak highly of you within their own networks, thereby potentially allowing you to influence total strangers, based purely on the connection you built with the original person. Picture a house being built brick by brick. Imagine trust being built in the same way – conversation by conversation, contact by contact. The more contact we make, the stronger our connection becomes.
Here are some lessons to be learned from master networkers about communication.
As already mentioned, master networkers understand the power of using a person’s name to make and strengthen a connection. The easier you make it for people to remember and contact you, the more positive your impact and influence can be with that person. An inexpensive strategy to increase connection between your staff and clients (and if you have a large organisation, between staff) is to issue staff nametags.
Staff often feel more accountable when they wear name badges and this can increase their work output and the quality of their customer service.
Everyone likes to be valued, appreciated and recognised. This may take the form of using a person’s name, acknowledging them with a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when asking for something, or even being given a name badge or business card in the workplace.
Master networkers realise that people are not their jobs – they are people who are currently working in a specific area (but may have a huge variety of skills, experiences and talents that may not be obvious). Master networkers usually have conversations about the whole person, not just the job they do.
Far too many people don’t receive any form of recognition in the workplace. They work for organisations that take their staff for granted, treat them poorly, have no systems in place to recognise achievement or progress and are complacent – about both staff and customers. Often these are also the organisations with high staff turnover, low morale, erratic profits and a poor name in the marketplace.
So how can you use this strategy within your organisation to increase your influence? Here are some practical suggestions. First, it is important to understand that:
A very powerful way to show staff that you recognise the importance of their roles is to provide all of them (whether or not they have regular, personal contact with current customers) with business cards.
There is a great sense of satisfaction when you have the ability to influence someone by empowering them. A discussion of the means and mechanism of empowerment is beyond the scope of this chapter, but one of the easiest ways to empower someone else is to give them information. Information can equate to power – and the more information you have about a subject, the more powerful or influential you become.
Information is one of the major currencies of networking, and master networkers have much ‘information power’. As a rule, they are extremely well informed. They work at gaining and constantly updating their information through sources such as newspapers, books and the Internet, but also through the information that circulates through their networks.
Master networkers also know that the greatest gift you can give someone is your sole focus. Whether it is for 10 seconds or 10 minutes, if your sole focus is on that person, you will have had a quality conversation with them. Simply giving sole focus to someone is sufficient to influence and empower them, as this action is so rarely experienced in our busy society.
Master networkers watch what other successful networkers do, and then do the same. That is how they become masters at what they do. Tradespeople, engineers, professionals, teachers and designers do much the same thing. They look to people they admire and want to be like – that is, role models – and then copy what they do, but without becoming their clones or stealing their ideas and concepts.
As a leader, you will know you have true influence when you become a role model for many others. It is such a compliment to a strong leader when their team follows their habits and copies their positive behaviour.
How do you become a role model for others? I don’t think it is something you can force; it is something that happens as a result of what you do.
As role models come in many forms, I will share the traits of my current role models.
A leader can progress from zero to hero with the formation of a number of strategic alliances, both internal and external. In fact, it is very difficult to achieve hero status and major influence in an organisation without the support of a number of strategic alliances and collaborations.
The main reason why people form strategic alliances is to make it easier to achieve their desired results. Strategic alliances can be described as a coming together of two or more parties who agree to certain behaviours or procedures for the purpose of ultimately creating mutually beneficial results.
Leaders cannot perform effectively without a number of strategic alliances within divisions, organisations, teams and clusters in their workforce. Strong leaders also know that strong alliances will assist them to reach many individuals that they may not physically be able to spend time with. The key, of course, is making sure that the selected allies have the respect and support of the leader’s peers. Otherwise the alliance can do more harm than good.
The following points will assist you if you are contemplating forming a strategic alliance.
Strategic alliances are hard work. They are like many of the important relationships in your life; they take time to yield results. However, they are a very interesting way to spread your influence to a much wider network. As Harvey Mackey says, it is not what you know, but who knows what you know.2
Another strategy master networkers use is to develop and participate in ‘mastermind’ groups.
Mastermind groups are informal or formal meetings where selected, highly regarded (by the group) people come together with a set agenda of sharing wisdom, creative ideas, solutions, possible outcomes and constructive feedback for
each individual’s problems, challenges or ideas. The information shared within mastermind groups is usually regarded as confidential, unless agreed otherwise. This enables individuals to speak freely about their challenges in an environment of mutual trust.
Here is a checklist you may find useful if you are thinking of starting your own mastermind group.
As technology drives our communication world further and further ahead, creating a time-poor society – emails, mobile phone calls and information overload – networking has become more important than ever.
Wise networkers realise that their potential influence is directly related to the size of their network and base of connections. A network is a varying collection of people from all walks of life – some are CEOs and others are cleaners; some initially met by chance, through work or otherwise. In the jigsaw of life, you never know where that person might show up again or how much influence their opinion of you may carry … or the impact (for better or worse) of the influence you have had on them.
Master networkers influence others, both formally and informally, in matters small and large. So a smart manager or aspiring leader learns from them and works at developing strong, ethical networking skills. And remember, networking skills are a prerequisite for forming strategic alliances, which can enable you to move your organisation and your career to the next level.
If you are prepared to constantly hone your networking skills, value your current and expanding networks, consider forming strategic alliances and value the worth of such activities as mastermind groups, it is inevitable that you will have as much influence as you want to have.
IR Misner & D Morgan, Masters of networking, Bard Press, USA, 2000.
I enjoyed contributing a chapter to and reading this book. Ivan and Don have brought together many high profile US and Canadian identities, who share the common philosophy that ‘you give without remembering and receive without forgetting’. It was fascinating to see this principle enacted in so many different forms, and told in such diverse stories.
P Fritz, A Parker & S Stumm, Beyond yes: negotiating and networking, Harper-Collins, Sydney, 1998.
This book provides a great insight into the links between networking and negotiating, and the potential overlaps when you expand your networks. The negotiating tips are uncomplicated and easy to follow.
Robyn Henderson is regarded as a global networking specialist. She has spoken in eleven countries, presents over 150 times each year and has never advertised. All her work comes from networking, referrals and her website. She is a CSP – a certified speaking professional with the National Speakers Association of Australia; an accreditation shared by less than 500 people internationally – and an adjunct professor with the Southern Cross University. Robyn has written 14 books on networking, self-promotion and building self-esteem. Her most recent book is How to master networking (Sea Change Publishing, 2nd edition, 2004).
© 2005 Australian Institute of Management