10 Successful Networking Skills for Executives and Leaders
Executive networking skills are used on an almost daily basis, but how can executive leaders get the most from building networks, nurturing relationships and providing the basis for conducting business with a person or company. We consider essential networking skills for executives and leaders to create a framework for successful networking. This may vary according to the individual, networking scenario and industry sector, given certain sectors are more ‘highly networked’ than others. The article considers the following executive networking skills:
Essential Networking Skills Executives
- Define Purpose of Executive Networking
- Leadership Networking Target Audience
- Executive Networking Skills: Engagement
- Preparing for Executive Networking Events
- Business Cards for Executive Networking
- Setting Expectations for Leadership Networking
- Executive Networking Follow-Up Contacts
- Executive Leader Networks: Confidentiality / Respect
- Executive Networking Skills and Job Hunting Networks
- Knowing Proposition for Executive Leader Networking
1) Define Purpose of Executive Networking
For executive networking events, meetings or interactions it is necessary to identify the main purpose of networking. Having a well-defined purpose helps to set important boundaries, establish a strategy and improves overall focus towards networking objectives. One rule, is never go to executive networking events with the purpose of selling something or making a sales pitch. It is all about setting the scene, making an introduction and giving the basis for building relationships in the future.
- Consider what are you there for?
- What are you trying to achieve through executive networking?
- What are desired executive networking benefits or outcomes?
2) Leadership Networking Target Audience
Successful networking for executive leaders is all about identifying, targeting and engaging with the right audience. Engaging with the right audience is crucial for managing expectations, building relationships and understanding how fellow ‘executive networkers’ can mutually benefit each other. Leaders make the obvious mistake of choosing wrong executive networking events, going unprepared or not understanding how to listen, communicate or make an impression with the desired target audience. Having a clear strategy, core message and defined ways of interacting with target audiences yield greater opportunities for building future relationships.
3) Executive Networking Engagement
Networking for executive leaders must be polite, professional and engaging. Like anything else in business, it is all about making the right impression, remaining proactive and being aware of the environment or situation people find themselves in. The first few seconds are key, so stepping forward, conveying a warm friendly greeting and having an opening statement (i.e. gambit to gain an advantage) often helps get things started.
To be successful in any executive networking group, asking questions, listening intently, showing interest and moving between people is all part of being proactive. Within a room of strangers it can be quite daunting but if executive networkers are ‘on the front foot’, show confidence and willing to speak to others, people soon forget they are in a networking situation. One final thing about engagement, it is not about speaking to everything. It is about speaking to a selected few to give an opportunity to build the relationship rather than literally say hello, how are you and move on. Try to spend a few minutes with each person before moving on and leaving on good terms.
4) Preparing for Executive Networking Events
Leadership networking is all about preparation, knowing who is going to be attending events and even travelling out to meet key contacts, opinion formers or influencers within any given business sector. Networking with leaders can be done in different settings, including international conferences, stakeholder meetings, CEO networking groups, investor relations, formal meetings, alumni events, academic courses, industry networking events, presentations, seminars, workshops, webinars, institutional events and so on.
Knowing your audience, be prepared to ask questions and having an opening gambit can help leaders turn executive networking events to their advantage. It may be necessary to take notes (pen and paper handy), swap business cards and read up on a particular topic that could come up in discussion. Arrive in good time, do not leave too early, dress appropriately for the event and remain professional at all times to leave a good impression. Also, keep a record of contacts n a database for future reference (follow-up and lead generation purposes).
5) Business Cards for Executive Networking
The exchange of business cards following executive networking interactions is arguably the key thing to gain from any leadership networking event. It gives the basis for building the relationship as executive leaders now have important contact details. It goes beyond that it terms of showing initial trust and networkers being open to future contact. Staying in touch, knowing your client and staying credible in an important part of managing the networking process to an advantage. Failing to have a business card to hand simply undermines the whole executive networking process no hope of establishing future contacts. Business card must contain relevant job title information, contact details and some initial insight into the company (i.e. website address, marketing slogan or industry expertise help add value for business cards).
6) Setting Expectations for Leadership Networking
Having made an impression, it is crucial to set realistic expectations. Never negotiate (agree) a deal off the cuff, over promise things or guarantee something that cannot be delivered. It is best to be honest, realistic and credible as the outcome of using executive networking skills to an advantage can result in lucrative deals. It is just about building the initial relationship as a stepping stone for creating long-term opportunities. Expectations can be set through a welcoming approach, introducing oneself and showing professionalism through positive behaviours, manners and communication. Executive leaders often have their own personal brand or style when meeting fellow networking for the first time. Be consistent at all times.
7) Executive Networking Follow-Up Contacts
Executive networking is all about building viable contacts. It is also necessary to validate potential clients, generate the basis for future interactions and make sure contacts are relevant to what is to be achieved through leadership networking objectives. Successful leadership networking skills rely on the ability to follow-up on potential leads or contacts. LinkedIn is often a critical tool in this process. Without follow-ups, there is simply no basis for executive networking events. Without this, it is worthwhile attending executive leader networking events in the first place?
Furthermore, the reason why executive networkers give out business cards is with the expectation of being contacted in the future. So, go ahead. Collate networking contacts, maintain a database (spreadsheet) and plan a schedule for making follow-up calls or emails. Follow-up do not mean automatically subscribing contacts to email lists and spamming them with monthly newsletters. This is simply not the purpose, so maintain a level of human interaction throughout the follow-up process to yield better results (response rates). LinkedIn is an effective research tool and follow-up method for connecting with contacts and building networks over time. LinkedIn can easily lead to other opportunities through inter-connectivity between contacts and appearing in different networks.
8) Executive Leader Networks: Confidentiality / Respect
At all times expect confidentiality, respect and trust so do not disclose details of conversations or business connections to others. Respect privacy and fellow networkers should respect yours. Being respectful and polite means not being too pushy, following preferences of contacts and not monopolise all of their time. Executive leaders are there to network with other people too. Also, showing respect build trust and demonstrates they are able to do business with you. Business is all about human interaction, so making an impression and leaving contacts with a sense they can do business with you is very important.
9) Executive Networking Skills and Job Hunting Networks
Never go to executive networking events with the purpose of looking for a job. Follow the previous rules to good effect and there may be a possibility that such contacts can influence future careers in the long run, especially given an extended executive search network. This is especially true of close-knit business communities, specialist niches or high profile corporations, where industry contacts and key influencers can be crucial for executive careers or potential job opportunities in the future. Always play the long game as it is about establishing initial relationships first and foremost. Once the relationship is established then opportunities to seek career moves may become more apparent in the future.
10) Know your Proposition for Executive Networking
Again, this brings together all the other elements of executive networking skills. Going through these networking competencies helps develop experience, skills and confidence for future networking. Executive networking skills are often refined over time by learning from mistakes, adapting strategies and developing specific industry knowledge. Be careful that confident networking skills do not border on arrogance, not getting the right message across or not following rules of engagement for effective networking. Be clear about what you can offer your target audience, how you can benefit them going forward and perhaps one thing that gets overlooked – be patient. It takes time to build strong executive networks, but one the network is build there are obviously continuous benefits and advantages.
Better Executive Networking Skills: Conclusion
There are always different networking scenarios, interactions and events going on, though there are certain ways to ensure successful executive networking events. Executive leaders can adapt styles, approaches and behaviours to suit their target audience, so hopefully we have provided a useful frameworks for improving leadership networking skills. Following some simple ‘rules of engagement’ can make all the difference between building a successful future relationship or falling flat with a negative response at executive networking events. LinkedIn is also a crucial tool for following up on contacts and building leadership networks over the long-term. Whatever anyone else says, executive networking using LinkedIn is the preferred platform with millions of subscribers.