How Great Leaders Use Strategic Networking and How You Can Too

I speak to managers and emerging leaders regularly who go out of their way to avoid networking because they dislike the feeling of insincerity that they get from such an event.

However, it is only a great leader who fully recognises the need for networking and understands the strategy of why they are attending a meeting in the first place. As Brene Brown succinctly puts it, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen” but that is only the first step.

Great leaders understand that there are three forms of networking: operational networking, personal networking, and finally strategic networking. In a 2007 Harvard Business Review article on the topic, professors Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter pointed out that most managers who network do so either on an operational level to build up their working relationships, or on a personal level to gain referrals and/or information. Many barely consider strategic networking, yet it is by far the most helpful for their long-term career and goals.

To see strategic networking at work, you just need to watch the world’s political leaders as they connect for mutual benefit rather than simply friendship. Top CEOs and leaders operate on the same principle. “We will work together because it gets us where we each want to go”.

The benefits of strategic networking.

Further your career

Strategic networking helps you further your career. It is where you focus on your future goals, creating contacts inside and outside the business which may not be relevant to your current career or organisation. In essence, it is being one step ahead of where you are now. There is some overlap between operational, personal, and strategic networking, but understanding that mutual relationships form the backbone of business will help you line up connections and allies for future growth.

Create leverage

The word leverage springs to mind here; meaning to use something to maximum advantage or, in essence, to get information or support from one area to achieve results in another.

Strategic networking allows you to create leverage in your career by having the right connections at the right time.


Networking is fluid and ever-changing. As your needs grow so will your contacts and your drive to seek more information and assistance. One important point to remember is that strategic networking should start sooner rather than later. Waiting until you need help will slow you down. Great leaders have a network they can call upon at any stage to have help at hand. It’s crucial to develop your strategic network not out of desperation, but from a strategic play.

How to network strategically.

Know where you are going. If you’re clear on where your career is heading, it is much easier to identify people who will impact it now or in the future. Pay attention to the movers and shakers in the industry. Get to know them. They will help you spot changes ahead and be ready for them. They will help you lead change rather than just manage it.

Do you know when you want your career to go and have a plan to get there? If not, I highly recommend you take advantage of my complimentary one-day pass to access the Athena Leadership Academy Career Clarity online coaching program. To find out more and to access it click here.

Get involved: Whether it’s at work or in your private life, get involved in the groups which are making things happen. Become part of a committee doing work you care about. Volunteer at work for research groups or projects. Go out and join formal networking groups. But always keep your strategy in mind. You are networking for a purpose, not just to fill in time.

Build your database: Keep track of the people you meet – who they are, what they do and who they know. Remember, networking goes both ways and the best way to establish a solid networking bond is by alerting them to opportunities and nominating them when a suitable role pops up.

Finding time away from what you perceive as real work to network is an important skill of a leader. Manage your time well, look for opportunities and create those events to connect with those inside and outside the organisation. The phrase, “it’s not what you know but whom you know” remains relative in key organisational positions.

Networking does not come easy – notice the word work nestled comfortably in there. It’s there for a reason to remind successful leaders that with hard work we can once again reap those rewards. Or as Maya Angelou says, “Nothing will work unless you do”.

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