Go Ahead and Leverage Your Network

July 2019

Photo: Cecilie Arcurs/iStock

A pithy and seemingly superficial greeting accompanied by a request from a long-lost business associate arrived in my inbox. You know the type: “Hi … it’s been a while … can you direct me to copious leads for my services?” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the nub. 

I enjoy the role of bridging those in my network with bountiful opportunities, and gaining from the reciprocal benefits. But, in the case of this peer, her past assertion (more than a year ago) to respond in kind to a generous opportunity I facilitated never materialized, despite my follow-up inquiries.

Leveraging is a learned skill for some

According to authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith of How Women Rise, most men are comfortable with a mutual exchange of benefits when leveraging their network … taking a win-win horse-trading approach. The authors contend that men in leadership roles are more focused on leveraging relationships than on building relationships. “They pursue people they believe can help them accomplish their objectives.”

In two recent global studies cited by Helgesen and Goldsmith, senior leaders ranked their female employees “most highly on motivating and engaging others, building strong teams, negotiating win-wins, empathic listening and building morale—all skills rooted in a talent for relationships.” However, the authors contend that “while women are often stellar relationship builders, they tend to be less skilled at leveraging relationships. Or maybe not exactly less skilled, but rather noticeably reluctant to do so.” 

When surveyed by the authors, women’s reluctance to leverage networks was viewed as taking actions aligned with not being a nice person (exploiting others, self-serving, political games, hustler).

Some women, however, are comfortable with building connections that are measurable and benefit themselves, their companies and other people. 

Do it the right way

Leveraging and nurturing your network is a career skill that can help you reach your full potential. Whether your style is subtle or direct, here are some considerations and tips to help hone your networking skills:

  • When you ask for something, offer something in return. 
  • There are no guarantees or deadlines for reciprocity, but don’t renege on an implied return favor without an explanation. Your reputation is at stake.
  • Be particular about who you engage. Reciprocity works best when your goals harmonize. 
  • It’s good to like the person in a leveraged relationship. Find ways to build rapport based on common interests and professional groups.
  • Develop a schedule to maintain and grow your network by email, phone, on social media and in person.
  • Consider quality over quantity when determining your networking capacity.
  • Upon an introduction to a prospect, always be ready to offer your thought leadership and pitch to demonstrate your value.
  • When communicating with members of your network, add value by sharing topical content.
  • Arrange for in-person interaction at events, classes or simply meeting for coffee.
  • Be specific about your request for help. Are you seeking an introduction, insight, a recommendation or mutually beneficial opportunities?
  • Show support to network members by acknowledging their accomplishments.
  • Be likable by keeping the tone of conversations positive and subtly complimentary. (No pandering.)

Warming up communications 

People are busy, I realize, but taking the time to nurture a network is critical to business success. Perhaps some pleasant small talk in my associate’s recent email could have added some authenticity to her abrupt segue. A response to my emails or a few touch points over time would have built trust between us. 

By being a trusted member in your peer’s personal network, you have been vetted to an extent (based on your expertise within your industry and your reliability). Maximize the benefits of transactional alliances at every available chance to gain from this key career skill.

—Maureen Joyce