The most effective leaders have strong personal and professional networks that they can go to for information, support, real work, and air-cover. Every executive needs to build and maintain their network. Its crucial for both credibility and effectiveness.
Over the past two years, I have been gathering data about how practiced people are at personal networking and Ive spent most of my career thinking that I was the only one who was not good at this and, therefore, at a great disadvantage to my peers. But Ive learned that only about 15% of successful executives consider themselves to be natural networkers, and less than 10% believe they do a good job at it.
So good news for all of us who are not naturally good at it: we are not alone. Or more accurately, we are alone among many other people who are also alone! Over the years, I have become competent at the task, not because it is easy, fun or natural for me, but because I have understood the task better and devised systems and crutches to make it easier.
One of the biggest reasons people give for not networking is a fear that either the task itself, or the need to maintain the resulting relationships, will take too much time. Happily, it doesnt work that way. One of the key elements of effective networking is what I call the Power of Weak Connections.
The Science behind this concept comes from Mark Granovetter, an American sociologist who has created some of the most influential theories in modern sociology since the 1970s. He is best known for his work in social network theory and in economic sociology, particularly his theory on the spread of information in a community known as The Strength of Weak Ties (1973).
The Strength of Weakness
What is a weak connection? We all have key relationships where the whole point is to spend time with the person because we enjoy and value that. These are strong connections. These take real time, and spending the time is the good part. Weak connections on the other hand are with people you know, and at one time had an authentic reason to connect withthey are still personal connections, but they dont require a lot of time to maintain.
They are not just a stack of business cards of people you dont really know at all. I dont believe this type of contact adds value to your network. Weak connections are based on something real. (Think purpose over time.) You can maintain a weak connection about once a year with a brief phone call or email, a ping. Something like, I thought of you the other day, and wanted to say hello. Things are going well for me and my family. Still at my same company, but I started a new job as the CIO for the enterprise business unit, which I am enjoying. Hope you are well.
Use your own style of course, but the point is to realize that it doesnt take a lot of data. Weak connections are about keeping the connection fresh, not keeping all of the details of the relationship currentI am here, you are there. I thought enough about you to acknowledge our connection.
This is so much more powerful (and pleasant) than no contact at all for years and years. Find some method or process or trigger to keep yourself doing this. Think about spending maybe a half an hour a month, and pinging 10-30 people. That is a lot of network refreshing without a big time commitment.