Up and Out: The External Networking Imperative
Last week we ran a workshop for the senior managers at the site of a Fortune 500 company. Our co-presenter was the officer in charge of marketing and community social responsibility. Here's how I kicked off the event:
"You sit down in the morning with coffee in hand, open up your email and see an email from Pat. It's an invitation for you to represent the company at an event. Your first thought might be, "do I have to wear a tie?" or "do I have to buy new clothes?" or "can I teleconference in?" Your second thought might be, "I really like Pat, I'll do what I can to help out."
Actually that second thought merits a second look.
When you're invited to represent your company in the community - whether it's an invitation to join a table at a ball, sit on a governmental committee, participate in a community event or join a board – the invitation actually comes from someone who is helping you to do YOUR job. Accepting the invitation might help him or her, but more importantly it helps you don your mantle of power and exercise your leadership responsibilities. Why do I say this?
Our Leaders @ Every Level™ exercise asks participants to array dozens of leadership behaviors according to the level at which they are an expected part of successful performance. In organization after organization it illustrates that the higher one moves up the ladder, the more her focus has to be outside the organization. Relationships with funders, regulators, opinion leaders, industry representatives, supplier groups, key customers and others increasingly become the responsibility of senior managers and executives. But you can't wait until you move into a senior position to begin these relationships. They are increasingly a success factor for even being considered for senior positions. So, career-savvy women start developing skills to form and tap these relationships in middle management positions.
This shift in focus from down and in (focusing on your direct reports and others who make daily operations possible) to up and out (external relationships that help shape and successfully execute strategy) is a shift that many women miss – and it serves us poorly. It's one of the derailers that make it difficult to pass through the semi-permeable membrane to higher positions in organizations. So, as you journey on your career path, shift your focus up and out in order to be a credible contender for higher positions. This is the external networking imperative.
For a guide on how to shift your focus, check out my prior post on Networking Guilt. It is a guide strategically selecting the types of external events and organizations to get involved with.