5 Reasons Why Networking is Essential for Your Career

I’ve lived in Aotearoa New Zealand for most of my life. I grew up in Gisborne, a small East Cost town that felt plenty big enough. Networking wasn’t something I was taught. My parents had friends and tended to stick with them. They’re part of a generation of New Zealanders who don’t mingle at parties.

Stints living overseas opened my eyes to how other cultures approach networking. At the ages of 14 and 16 I was part of a dance group that travelled to the US and performed around Southern California. I stayed with host student families and learned to meet new people and form connections.

Then in my 20s and newly married I moved to the US and was based in San Francisco. Internal flights were a revelation. Other people were working the aisles, handing out business cards. I heard a guy once say, ‘Yeah I had four failed businesses but this one’s a winner’. What a contrast to Kiwis who tend to sit in their seats, may well not interact with their neighbours, and wouldn’t advertise a business failure.

I notice a similar reticence when it comes to professional networking. Kiwis tend to view it as phony, inauthentic or manipulative. Networking can be phony if it’s all about getting something you want from someone else. I prefer to look at it as about being mutually helpful.

Introducing LeaderLabs

A networking format we at Catapult find especially helpful is small groups of leadership programme participants, which we call ‘LeaderLabs’.

I recently finished the last workshop in this year’s Sustainability Leadership Programme. We carefully curated the LeaderLab groups to create a diversity of peers and a commonality of Sustainable Development Goal. The groups work together between workshop sessions over the six months of the programme. We give them session agendas so they have intentional and focused conversations. They support and challenge each other to make progress on a real sustainability challenge.

Here’s what a graduate says about the value of the LeaderLabs:

‘The Leader Lab working groups have, for me, been incredibly valuable.  … being able to work with a group of people outside my organisation has provided the opportunity to view the challenge and the action plan objectively. They’ve, very gently, been able to question my plan, show alternatives that I may not have been able to see, and provide support and guidance. I feel like I’ve gained much more confidence in being able to implement the plan and process I have for leading my sustainability challenge.’

What makes LeaderLabs so valuable?

  1. Human beings crave connection. Sustainability leaders can feel very isolated and weighed down by the burden of responsibility.
  2. We only have one perspective on a complex issue. Through working with others, we are able to broaden our perspective and learn from others’ experiences.
  3. Working with others builds confidence. We receive validation and endorsement.
  4. Complex challenges can only be solved by collaboration. Working in these groups teaches how to work in multi-stakeholder groups. They learn the skills of facilitation, peer coaching, peer consulting, and feedback.
  5. Working with others helps to make work more fun! Working on issues like sustainability can get pretty intense. Working with others brings a laugh and lightness.

Enhancing your networks on LinkedIn

I find LinkedIn a great source of connections. Here are some dos and don’ts for LinkedIn.

  • DO – Search for connections by putting a job title in the search bar and then adding a personalised message with your connection request.
  • DON’T – Pitch your product or service to someone as soon as they accept your connection request. That’s a giant turn off.
  • DO – Think about what you can offer of value – it might be as simple as sharing a link to an article.
  • DON’T – Feel the pressure to like and comment on everything in your feed.

Creating your own network

Nothing beats networking in person. You could create a LeaderLab of your own based on a common field of interest. At your first session I recommend:

  • Establishing a common purpose – what’s a why you share that brings you together?
  • Establishing rules of engagement – what are your basic agreements around confidentiality etc?
  • Personal storytelling to accelerate openness and trust. You could ask each person to share a 1-2 minute personal story such as:
    • Where are you from and how has that shaped you?
    • Who is someone who has influenced you and how?
    • What is one of your personal values and what does it mean to you?

What networks are you part of and what makes them effective?