For many people, the idea of networking is a necessary evil. But even if you’ve gotten over your self-promotion phobia and polished up your LinkedIn profile, your network still might not be working as well as you hope. Herminia Ibarra, Harvard Business School professor and author of Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader has determined in her research three key mistakes people make when building their networks.
You’re Only Networking With People Like Yourself
People are narcissistic and lazy. Well, at least when it comes to building their networks. It’s human nature to build your network with people who are both like you and around you. But if you aren’t engaging with people from different teams, genders, races or even geographies, you won’t gain any insight you probably couldn’t just come up with yourself. For managers, this becomes particularly true when you undervalue the insight of lower level employees. Instead of seeking more mentors, you should be seeking out employees or peers who can help you figure out how to solve problems and demonstrate your worth to higher ups.
The stakes of not having a good network are high. One study showed that the top ideas to come out of science in the last few decades have been from team efforts. Genius is no longer a solo act.
You Put Up Walls Between Your Personal and Professional Networks
A common mistake is treating your personal network and strategic network as wholly separate. While you shouldn’t make every friendly brunch a hunt for new clients, you can use your personal interests to build more authentic strategic relationships. For example, you could organize an outing to an event you’re interested in attending and invite a client. If that seems like a huge step, just showing up to the event and talking to a few people you don’t know can also have unexpected strategic benefits.
Your Network Isn’t Dynamic Enough
So your network is diverse and you’ve shown up to the party — you’re fine, right? Maybe not. One of the overlooked dangers of a network is that, if not updated regularly, it reflects your past experiences more than your future goals. Unless you actively broadcast your goals to your connections and mentors, they may pigeonhole you into your current role. Do maintenance by sending thank you notes to old contacts with life updates, or by asking them to recommend new contacts who might be in line with your new goals.
If any of these problems seem like they might ring true, try doing an audit of your network. Ask yourself what your weakness and strengths are and what additions might fix them.