Leveraging vs. Building Networks

Leveraging vs. Building Networks

Often when we talk to women leaders, they are more concerned about the number of people in their network than the type of people. Women tend to carry a mindset of “the world tells me I need to build my network,” and consequently, quantity trumps quality for them. They’re more concerned about going to wine and cheese events than looking at what they need from their network, what they have to offer, and how they can leverage their network. You can build as many networks as you want, but if you don’t know how to leverage them, they won’t help. 


When I first started my consulting practice, I had a coach who gave me some of the best advice: she didn’t want me to be at any event where I was the most senior person in the room. This is a brilliant strategy towards leveraging a network, and reminds me of the well-known quote, “If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.”  You won't grow or learn anything by staying where you are, and need to move on. 

Where should you go? One of the things we teach in our Navigator Program is that the answer to that question. “Who should be in my network?” depends on what your big dream is. If your big dream is to get a job in public administration, your network needs people in public health. If your dream is to become CFO, then being in a room full of other accountants will not get you there. When you have precise clarity on your big dream, and the course you need to chart to realize that big dream, then you can look at your network and ask, “Who do I have that can support that big dream, and who might be missing?” 

That subtle mindset shift helps you take back your agency, because then you think about the people in your network from the perspective of what you need to ask them for and what they’ll need from you. Men do this naturally, but women often do not. Women tend to approach networking from a place of fear—fear of rejection, fear of being judged, fear of being taken advantage of. But remember, it’s expected that you’ll ask your network for support and offer support in return. Networking is a two-way street, and making a connection with you can be exactly what someone else needs to get ahead in their career, too. 

The approach can apply to social media as well: it’s not the number of likes you get; it’s the partnerships you form from your interactions online. If you can be an advocate or a sponsor for each other rather than liking each other’s content, that more substantive mutual engagement will move the needle. 

Plenty of women with large networks still haven’t made the essential connection: you can have blistering and clarity on your big dream, but that’s not enough. Who in your network can support that big dream? Armed with the answer, you then need to have the self-efficacy—the belief in yourself—to ask. You can have clarity and know who your network is, but if you don’t have the gumption to ask, then the dream doesn’t come alive.

Don’t be afraid to ask directly for what you need.



Join us for a virtual event and complimentary coffee where our Women On Their Way team guides you through an overview of our WOTW Navigator Program and our WOTW Leadership Forum.

This Virtual Coffee is designed to help you gain a cohesive understanding of Women On Their Way principles and programs, and help you determine the right fit for you based on your unique context.


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