How to Leverage Your Network When You Don't Really Want To
This article is part of a series of blogs around the Five Behaviors Standing Between Women Leaders & Greater Success. This article dives deeper into Career Limiting Behavior #2: Failure to Build Networks You Actually Use.
I love the book title "Your Network is Your Net Worth." What I love about the phrase is that it captures the point that your network is not only about how many people you know, but also the rank and influence of those within your network.
There are a number of tools that can help you build and maintain your network, with LinkedIn being the most popular (it has 500 million members and 250 million are considered "active). As I work with existing and emerging women leaders, I have found that the act of building a network is rarely the barrier standing between women and greater success. The real barrier is the willingness to leverage their network in a meaningful, powerful way.
When I talk to my clients, they cite a number of reasons why they hold back from asking their network for support, introductions, connections and advice. Some of the more popular include:
They "don't like to ask for things from 'friends.'" Asking a colleague for things like an introduction to a prospective client feels "weird" or like they are "using a friendship" inappropriately.
Their contact is really busy and they don't want to take up their time. They "don't want to impose."
They "don't want to appear needy." The "should not have to ask for help." They want to do this "on their own."
There are a few underlying themes that typically drive these excuses. The first is self-worth and self-confidence. If a woman is struggling with her own worth and confidence, reaching out and asking for help - being vulnerable - can be incredibly difficult until she deals with her underlying confidence issues.
Secondarily, I occasionally see women that have been taught that their efforts are not as valuable if they do not "earn" them by themselves. They see "asking for help" as a sign of weakness, rather than a realistic, pragmatic response to a situation where help can be beneficial. Again, it can be difficult to lean into leveraging a network when you are stuck in the thinking that going it alone is the only the only way to go.
A close relative of the "go-it-alone" syndrome is the third common theme: the desire to be communal, which translates into an inability to ask for help from friends. The communal approach is commonly valued by women and reinforced by business and societal norms. Women often crave community, which means we work hard to create connections with others and enjoy driving consensus. These skills can make women immensely valuable in the business world, but this desire for community can sometimes make it hard to ask for favors from those we perceive as even semi-close "friends."
So here is the challenge women face with this career limiting behavior: If you want to get ahead, you have to play the game. And, the game greatly benefits those who leverage a well-maintained network.
What is a successful business woman to do when it becomes clear that activating their network is key to getting ahead - yet they find themselves unable to proceed with an ask? Here are TEN tips:
Think about a time when you asked for help and it WORKED. Maybe it was a time you asked a coworker for help with a project or even a friend to help co-host a party. You want to think about a time when asking for help worked out well for you. Ground yourself in the hard data that asking for help translated into a good outcome.
Get clear on what you want. Do you want a new job, want to learn more about a specific industry, or need to learn a new skill to advance in your current company? People want to help, but they need to know exactly what you need. Know what you are asking for before you begin to contact anyone. NOTE: An ambiguous ask is a wasted ask.
Consider who in your network can help you. Make a list. Think about anyone you know that could possibly help you get to where you want to go.
Think big. You can edit later.
LinkedIn is a great place to start. Search by hashtags and companies. And, if you come across someone you know and are not connected with, go ahead and seize the opportunity to connect! Build that network!
List exactly what help you want from this person. What do you need from this person: Expertise, introductions, connections to other connections? Be specific. The more specific you are, the more likely this person will be able (and willing) to help you because they know exactly what you need. (Also: See step #1)
Group your contacts into two categories:
Can Directly Help Me Reach My Goal: These are people that can give you the exact information you need to know, are the hiring manager/leader you want to meet or can make a direct introduction to the leader or hiring manager you want to meet.
Can Indirectly Help Me Reach My Goal: These are people that can help you learn more about an industry or company, but may not be either senior enough or connected to the right person for you to achieve your goal. They are two or more people removed from anyone you want to meet.
Think about what you can offer these people in return. This is an important step. Consider what you can bring to the table to each person. Maybe you can make an introduction for them at some point or educate them about a topic that may be of interest to them. Or maybe you can simply buy them lunch or a great cup of coffee. Especially for women struggling with asking for "favors from friends," being able to return a favor can be very important.
Determine where to start.
If you are new to leveraging your network, start with your "Can Indirectly Help Me Reach My Goal" list. When you are working on developing a new muscle, it can help to try out your pitch on a less critically important person. In other words, do not start with the hardest, most important (and possibly most intimidating ask) first.
If you are an experienced networker but nervous about this specific ask, start with the friendliest person on the list or the person most likely to help. Build your confidence before you jump into the deep end.
Make the ask. Be concise and clear in your ask. What exactly are you asking this person to do to help you? And, if you have something to offer in return, offer it clearly.
Make it easy for the person to help you. For example, offer to draft an email they can send or send them some information outlining what you need.
Offer to follow up with the person with a reminder after the meeting.
Move to the people that can be the most impactful after you have built your confidence and practiced your ask with the safer group,
Be appreciative and write a thank you note (you get bonus points if you use snail mail over email).
And, once you master this skill, don't forget to PAY IT FORWARD. The next time someone asks you help - take the meeting. The only way to change the status quo is to start actually changing the status quo!
By breaking down your ask into these steps, you can position yourself for greater success in your ask - which will help build your confidence and make the next ask even easier. Success builds on success.
Now get out there, lean in and let me know how it goes!
Need help building and then leveraging your network? Are you seeing trends that are holding you back from being your best, most successful self? Reach out. I work with existing and emerging women leaders, their teams and the companies that employ them to help leaders THRIVE and find their own ideal balance/integration of work and life.