Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

We spend a bunch of time on the energy side where they focus on ‘the grid’. We also have one foot solidly in the rail and transportation industry. Here, discussion centers on ‘lines’ and ‘terminals’. Whether we talk about grids, lines, or terminals, what we’re really talking about are networks. Lost in all of this infrastructure talk, though, is the importance or centrality of our own, personal networks. Make no mistake, our personal networks require just as much infrastructure investment and care as other types of networks.

April is an appropriate month to discuss the power of your network for a host of reasons. One senior executive intuitively captured the context and timing of network growth. Essentially, he argued that after Christmas parties, we tend to hunker down in our offices as the cold winter keeps us all at bay. In April, though, we emerge from our cocoons. We play golf. We enjoy more business lunches outside on the patio or at a cafe. His logic is tough to argue against—we just have more human and social interaction as April opens.

Investing in our own personal and professional networks serves many functions, some selfish—others less so. Let’s explore some of the reasons to spend more time on LinkedIn, to invite a colleague out for lunch, or to attend a conference where the exposure to new leaders is greatly enhanced.

First, a strong network provides leaders more employment options. It is usually when something goes south that we all desperately search for options. If you don’t invest in your network, though, and bad times descend, you could be left flatfooted. Allow us to provide an example, and his name is Dennis Erickson. To this day, Dennis Erickson is considered one of the most networked individuals in college and professional football. He’s held seven head coaching positions at the college level and two within the NFL. Rumor has it that he has proclaimed that he could be fired at noon and have at least one job offer by dinnertime. Of course, we could rely on headhunters and professional placement firms to provide us options. To be clear, though, those services fail in comparison to an engaged and active network. We know one executive who has had six major professional moves in the last 20 years, and not a single one of those was the result of a headhunter. Instead, his highly developed network allowed for his professional growth.

With the self-serving nature of networks behind us, let’s explore some other ways networks can help our organizations and us. The problems that many of our clients face are rather complex. These problems are so complex, in fact, that the likelihood of generating targeted solutions, in-house, is unlikely. When networks are cultivated, we can bring the knowledge and expertise from a variety of sources to the table. Take, for instance, what many of our sons and daughters are doing at our universities. We know of a case when one of our daughters was facing a daunting problem. She turned to the web (doing so without cheating). Offering her engineering and math advice were fellow students from Israel, Brazil, and Norway. This point should not get lost on us. Building strong networks means that we have crucial sources of intelligence and expertise that we can draw upon to solve some of our thorniest problems. As the world gets more complex and our problems more difficult, those with robust and open networks will outperform those individuals or organizations that attempt to learn in isolation.

So, what’s one to do? We’ll be the first to say that network building is not an easy task. It will never be one. The main reason is that to build a potent network means that we need to step out of our comfort zone. That looks like sitting next to someone new during a conference. It looks like asking a colleague from a different department who you may not know very well to join you for coffee. Like dating, there’s always a chance that rejection will surface; that someone will say NO to your offer. Do it anyway. Getting past that point of vulnerability is important.

Here’s an easy way to add to your network now. Reach out to ELP’s Robin Bichy on LinkedIn. Or pick up the phone and call Evan Offstein at 240.727.5965. Or, for sure, send Ray an email at ray@elpadvantage.com. In less than five short minutes, you could have another three leaders added to your network.