In preparation for implementing the OPS Program for New and Emerging Leaders, The Expert Leader and Mind You Services sat down with Liesl Jordan of Connect 2 Effect to talk about the value of networking in a leader’s journey. Liesl shared some of the insights she gained as she developed her skill as a resourceful networker, building a successful career that focuses on connecting people and organizations to greatest effect.
How important has your network been to you as you have progressed in your career?
Professional networking has allowed me to forge lasting relationships that have opened doors for me to new opportunities and knowledge that I would not otherwise have had access to. But actually, in the early years of my government career, I never thought much about it. It was only when I left government and went abroad that I realized how important strong personal and professional networks were to my career advancement, especially outside of government structures.
Twenty-five years later, I’ve found that many of the people in my network have become some of my closest friends. Our personal and professional interests have intersected in a way that allows us to continue to grow and feel confident in taking the next step into a new or challenging role because we are confident that we have the networks to support our success.
In our OPS program, we talked about the concept of networking with a purpose. What does that concept mean to you?
The more connected I am, the more successful I will be. Many people think that success comes down to who you know. While it’s true that having a good network of people around you can help you get where you want to be, networking with a purpose is much less transactional than that. For me, it’s about building the support structures that give me the confidence to take the leap into the unknown: trusting that someone is out there with the answer when I need it, while also knowing how the paths I’m forging can help others.
When I started building my networks on purpose, I quickly discovered that a network works best when everyone shares a similar vision of its value: they see the network as an ecosystem that only thrives if everyone cares enough to give back. . Help or advice may not come from the same person you supported, but it may come unexpectedly or asynchronously. I have found that it is personally very satisfying to see others succeed and to know that I had a part in it. This is how you and your network move forward together.
What are some of the best and worst networking approaches you’ve seen in others?
The most effective networkers I have observed are those who are genuinely interested in what other people are doing. They are usually good listeners and genuinely interested in others and their success. In every conversation you will be thinking “How can I help this person achieve their goals?” In a nutshell, good networking is about understanding others, their context, what they can do and then looking for overlapping interests and leveraging that for mutual support.
On the not-so-effective side, I’ve seen people who are into networking, always taking from their network and never giving back. But some people also make the mistake of being too afraid to ask their network for help or advice. And then there are others who make the mistake of not going wide enough when building networks, thinking only of their current field of work instead of where they would like to be in a few years. Networks should broaden your field of vision and enhance what you know instead of concentrating it.
What do you say to people who find it difficult to network?
While networking is crucial to professional success, it doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. Some may break out in a cold sweat at the thought of striking up a conversation with a stranger in a public place. Others are put off by the idea that networking is bogus, that people only do it to ‘get ahead’. The trick is to approach it in a way that is authentic to you. And the good news is that there are plenty of ways to make personal connections that don’t involve arguing in a big room full of strangers, even online. However you do it, just focus on the core principles of building trust, reciprocity, and ongoing engagement.
Find out how the OPS program can help you build your operational, personal, and strategic networks – register today for our November intake.