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“If you want to become a great leader, gain the capacity to connect with colleagues and customers – at a deep level – or lower your aim.” –Susan Scott
Every time I’ve talked with Credit Union Leaders who have gone through the Executive Leadership Program, CUNA Management School, or attended the World Council Meeting, and asked them what was most valuable about their experience, the subject of networking always comes up. For example, in an interview with Scott Sager, CFO for Trona Valley Credit Union, about his experience at the World Council Meeting last year, he expressed that the abundant opportunities to network with Credit Union professionals from all over the world was of tremendous value.
“I really think that seeking out new perspectives is important. At this year’s World Council Meeting, it was interesting to see that most of us are experiencing the same development issues, regardless of where we are in the world. These discussions created a real sense of comradery and also allowed me to examine these challenges, and their potential solutions, from different angles.”
From my own experiences in DE training, I know firsthand the power of networking. Not only has the program expanded my professional network, but afforded me with unique knowledge and ideas from other Credit Union professionals that I would not have had access to otherwise.
There’s no question that having a large network of connections is a valuable asset, and that networking itself is a valuable skill. But I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review that breaks networking down into three distinct types, each with their own unique benefits and purpose: Operational, Personal, and Strategic.
I feel this distinction is useful because, as is also the case in other industries, the networking that happens amongst Credit Union professionals is largely internal. As valuable as it is to have a large network of other professionals within the same movement, there is additional value to be had by looking in other directions.
Here’s how the Harvard Business Review breaks it down:
Operational networking consists of building internal contacts, both within your current organization and within the industry as a whole. Having a large operational network can go a long way towards managing current internal responsibilities well. As leaders, if we are to facilitate coordination and cooperation in the service of goals and opportunities, we must have knowledge of our people that runs both deep and wide. While, in most cases, this type of networking is the most natural and accessible, it can also be tempting to focus on the completing of tasks and neglect the development of real relationships with the people we work with. In other words, it’s possible to assume that everyone in our own organization is a part of our network by default. But, having a good network on which you can rely goes beyond mere acquaintance. It requires regular conversations that build our knowledge of their unique skills, resources, talents, and ideas.
Personal networking consists of creating contacts that boosts our own personal development. Often these contacts are external to our organization and include those with shared interests outside our line of work. This type of networking might include interactions in professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, and personal interest communities. Having a large circle of people outside your own organization or industry can provide important referrals, information you might not have access to otherwise, and developmental support through coaching and mentoring that helps us think outside the box and offers a unique perspective. These types of personal networks can also go a long way towards strengthening our social and communication skills as well as contribute directly to our personal happiness and life satisfaction.
Strategic Networking includes both internal and external contacts, and serves to open our eyes to new ideas and trends that might be applied within our own industry. These are the types of relationships that helps us move forward – in our personal career trajectory and as an organization. While some may dismiss this type of networking as “playing politics”, recruiting stakeholders, understanding the nature of our own internal political landscape, and aligning people for the furtherance of a goal are all a part of the leader’s job.
“The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another.” (Harvard Business Review)
In other words, those with good strategic networks have mastered the art of influence. They are able to create action and agreement even amongst people who would otherwise be at odds because they’ve taken the time to gain trust and build important alliances.
Operational, personal, and strategic networks are not mutually exclusive. They are really just one way of understanding how to build a comprehensive network of contacts that will further our personal and professional goals. The trick is knowing how to leverage the most positive aspects of each type of network. For example, when struggling with clarity on a professional challenge, it might be helpful to identify a personal contact who might be able to offer objective, non-political insight.
While one type of networking might come easier to each of us than another, we can all likely agree that working to create a large network of contacts is one of the most important requirements of leadership.