Relationships are the core of our networks. New and maturing bonds expand those networks. Studies of outstanding performers in engineering, computer science, biotechnology and other “knowledge work” fields find that building and maintaining personal networks is crucial for success. People who are competent at building bonds naturally cultivate and maintain extensive informal networks. They seek out relationships that are mutually beneficial, and then they build rapport. They develop personal friendships among their work associates. This talent for connecting characterizes stars in almost every kind of job.
A spirit of generosity deepens our network connections. Many people are too protective of their own time and agenda, and turn down requests to help or work cooperatively with others. The result is resentment and a stunted network. On the other hand, people who can’t say no are in danger of taking on so much that their own effectiveness suffers. Again, resentment is the result. Outstanding performers are able to balance their own critical work with carefully chosen interactions, building accounts of goodwill with people who may be crucial resources down the line.
Networks include both courtesy and trust, and strong bonds require both. Trust is the essential building block for successful relationships. The more mutual trust we have with another person, the more honest and productive the relationship can become. In fact, one of the virtues of building networks is the reservoir of goodwill and trust that arises. This is particularly crucial for advancement from the lower rungs of an organization to the higher levels. These human links are the routes through which people come to be known for their abilities. Networks built on trust can be the most supportive alliances in our endeavors.
There are many advantages to having well-developed networks. People who use their networks judiciously have an immense time advantage over those who must use broader, more general sources of information to find answers. It’s estimated that for every hour a well-connected individual spends seeking answers through a network, the average person would spend three to five hours gathering the same information. A strong network also helps us influence others—the network’s endorsement creates added support and credibility for an idea.
Top performers do not create random networks. Each person is included for a reason. These networks send information back and forth in an artful, ongoing give-and-take. Each member of a network represents an immediately available extension of knowledge, accessible with a single phone call or text. While physical proximity helps, it’s psychological proximity that cements these connections. Successful networks are not happenstance. Selecting participants requires awareness about what each might contribute, including not just expertise but optimism; not just the ability to critique, but the ability to encourage. When it’s all said and done, for leaders, our networks can be an alternative source of support!