Your network is your most powerful professional development tool. Your network does not mean your hundreds of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections. Your functioning active network is a group of 12-18 diverse individuals you’ve met throughout your career or life. These are people whom you have been able to rely upon for candid, well-meaning feedback and genuine good advice. These people, if your network is balanced, can introduce you to at least 4 or 5 other people whom you may be able to help or vice versa. Your network does not need to be massive. An over-inflated network is in fact detrimental, because it is impossible to forge a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship with 500+ people, no matter how hard you try. There are only so many hours in a day after all.
As a professional, it is important to ensure that your network is well balanced and that you are as beneficial to your network as they are to you. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:
- Going about it the wrong way.
Networking at its base is an exercise in genuinely connecting with others. It’s not the exchange of business cards and titles and elevator pitches. It’s sitting down with another human being whom you genuinely respect and who genuinely respects you in turn, to engage in a meaningful conversation where you can bounce ideas, exchange stories and scenarios and get heartfelt advice and critique in return.
- The wrong kinds of relationships.
When you consider your network a personal advisory council, your thought process on the kinds of people you want to include in that group should change as well. This council should include people who energize you, people who provide benefits such as information or personal support, people you brainstorm well with and people whom you consider mentors. Positive energy is key!
- An imbalance between career advancement and engagement/satisfaction.
If your network pushes career advancement heavily, it can often feel like you are falling behind if you don’t advance at the same rate as your peers. Studies show that happier executives (though this can extend to all levels of employee) tend to perform higher. When you connect with other professionals through social activities or hobbies, you bring a new perspective to your thought process. Depending on the activity or setting, things such as physical fitness, mental activity or emotional fulfillment become just as important as progressing in your career.
As a final thought, the most important thing to realize about networking is that it is not solely about your agenda or needs. When you approach networking with the understanding that you are looking to positively impact another person’s life in the same way that they will impact yours, you will realize the power of genuine connection.