Executive advancement is not easy for anyone. But you only have to look at the photographs of the board of directors in a few annual reports to see that it is much harder for women.
Many factors beyond our control have kept most of us out of the upper echelons of management. But there are a few factors that hurt us nearly as much – and those, we can choose to do something about.
The external factors will only change over time, but we do have some control over the internal factors. It’s not always easy to make these adjustments, but with sheer grit and determination you can develop the mindset and the skills you need, to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
As I look back at my career so far, it seems of the many skills that I have had to learn, one of the most important has been networking. Although I was wired an introvert as a child, I found that learning to network gave me tremendous advantage in scaling the learning curve and collaboration.
Networking, like many other aspects of communication, depends on the execution of a number of underlying skills, including the ability to:
- Prioritize multiple demands: If you are good, people ask you to do things. Stay focused on achieving your strategic goals, while maintaining a degree of flexibility when your priorities have to change.
- Stay open: Be as efficient as you can be with your schedule so you can make time for other people during the day. You need to give yourself time to have honest conversations with key stakeholders and potential new allies about ways you might collaborate and work together.
- Be intentional: Keep asking yourself, who are the people who can help me meet my goals? This question will encourage you to be more strategic and thoughtful in helping you find role models, mentors, and sponsors.
- Be honest: The content of the first conversation sets the stage for further connection. I often read through the LinkedIn profiles of prospective contacts to be prepared to have an engaging conversation. I try to understand their interests, passions, hobbies, and favorite genres of music and be genuinely interested in what led them to these passions.
- Ensure reciprocity: Just as the people in your network give you guidance, information, or access to their contacts, make sure to extend the same to them. Without mutual benefit, you can’t really have a positive working relationship with your new acquaintance.
Wish upon a Star
One heuristic that can be useful for understanding how well you are using your networking fundamentals is to think about your last project in terms of the well-known star framework:
Situation: What problem am I trying to address?
Task: What tasks need to be done to accomplish my goal?
Action: What did I actually do and who helped me to complete those things?
Result: What happened in the end?
Star gives me a clearer picture of how effectively I leverage my networking and communication, and where there were gaps that more help or advice would have filled, giving me a clear idea of how I can collaborate better next time.
In the end, however, what’s most important is not how you network but that you make networking and communication, a part of your routine. Shy people, or anybody who does not consider communicating a part of their real job, may want to consider setting aside a certain amount of time per day, or defining a particular number of people to reach out every week, to build a stronger network. Business has always been a social activity, and it is getting more so all the time. If you want to succeed – and you want us to succeed, meaning women in general – come join the conversation!