By: Anja Uitdehaag

 “Everyone you meet has something to teach you.”  – unknown

Everybody networks. Whether your networking is done on a personal or professional level, the goal is the same: to cultivate and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with a mix of people with whom you can share ideas and knowledge.

In business, we all know we need to network more but so few of us take the time to get out there and make ourselves known to the community. I believe this is for a few reasons:

  • People don’t like doing things outside their “comfort zone”
  • We tell ourselves we’re too busy
  • We ask ourselves “what’s in it for me?”

The truth is you only get out of it what you put into it…

In a world that grows more complex and competitive each day, leveraging the ability to connect and manage relations is essential for success and necessary for survival.

The most successful people realize that the more diverse their network, the more powerful it becomes. They know it pays to listen, ask questions, and share their own expertise.

A central part of leadership is sharing experiences, meeting others, and learning from people inside and out of the office.

Carol Bantz, former CEO of Yahoo states it as follows: “Leadership today is defined not just by how many hours you spend at your computer but by your ability to connect to others, how you incorporate external perspectives and how you navigate groups”.

I learned very early on, that Business Networking is a really valuable way to expand my knowledge, and learn from the success of others. I used to have my own personal “Board of Directors” throughout my career. They are all from different backgrounds, nationalities and seniority and have very different work and life experiences. My “Board” helped me to think outside the box and see possible choices in a new light. The advantage of having different perspectives helped me a lot with addressing various business challenges in the various countries I have worked in and I am convinced that because of my personal connections I was positioned more advantageously for some internal promotions. I still reach out to them whenever I need a sounding board or just need someone to talk straight with me about something.

At this phase of my life, I really love helping other people, and networking is a fantastic way that allows me to do this easily. Networking is full of business owners that have problems or issues within their business that need solving, and for me there is great satisfaction from helping someone to solve a problem and get a fantastic result from it.

According to Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success”, people tend to approach professional interactions with one of three mindsets:

  • Taker
  • Matcher or
  • Giver

He emphasizes that networking is never a one-way street. It is always a give and take proposition. Rather than only helping others when it benefits you, try helping even when the benefits to others outweigh the personal costs to you. Colleagues and clients value people who are willing to give more than they receive.

What about your network?

  • Do you normally reach out and ask people for advice and support, or do you try to tackle things on your own?
  • Are most of the people in your network people whom you have known for a long time or whom you work with on a daily basis, or are they a combination of people inside and outside your organization who come from different backgrounds with different experiences, perspectives and professions?
  • Does your network include people at a more senior level as well as peers and direct reports?
  • Is it diversified by age, gender, nationality, race, industry, geography etc.?
  • How many people did you reach out to in order to originally build the relationship and how many people reached out to you?
  • What are you doing to maintain these relationships? Do you make a conscious effort to stay in touch with people or is it “out of sight, out of mind, for you?
  • Do you take time to support others around you, unconditionally?

Key take-away:

There are lessons to be learned and messages to be heard from everyone you meet. Are you listening? Are you connecting?

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