I recently read the book View from the Top by Dr. Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College. Dr. Lindsay is one of the youngest college presidents in the nation, an award winning sociologist and frequent lecturer on the topic of leadership. Lindsay interviewed 550 top national leaders as the basis for his book. While View from the Top contains many thoughtful and helpful insights, his focus in the book’s opening chapter on “building your network” really caught my attention.
I’ve always had a gut reaction against “networking.” Undoubtedly many of you will find that strange, and many of you probably network instinctively. It’s a pretty typical thing for leaders to do. However, networking conjured up images in my mind of talking to someone at a party and having them constantly looking over my shoulder checking out who they could talk to next. Networking has always struck me as a “political” effort, a way of getting ahead based on who you know as opposed to what you do. I’m not saying this view was right, just what I felt and thought.
Lindsay argues persuasively for leaders making networking a top priority. There are many ways to succeed as a leader, according to Lindsay, but all require developing an effective network. At first I resisted this and found the concept grubby. However, as I read further, Lindsay opened my mind to see that one could develop a network without being selfish, arrogant or pushy, and that failing to develop an effective network ultimately limits one’s growth as a leader.
Lindsay speaks of “developing a wide ranging network of acquaintances.” An effective network involves knowing people in a variety of different areas, people different than us, and even people we may not particularly like, not just people to whom we are naturally attracted or who can help us tomorrow. Leadership involves serving others, and networks serve as “entry points,” or “introductions,” to people who can help us as we seek to serve others better. In a time of unexpected crisis, they can make finding someone who can help much easier. Using networks correctly are less a means of self-promotion and more a means of finding ways to serve and help others more quickly, efficiently and effectively.
One other perspective on networking. I’ve written previously about John Maxwell, a speaker and author on leadership who has helped me tremendously. As a younger leader, John would offer to pay people he wanted to meet $100, as well as buy them lunch, for two hours of their time. Whether they needed the money or not, it was amazing how many of these people said yes. These lunches allowed him to build his network effectively. I think John would say that building his network at a young age was one of the primary keys to his success as a leader.
Finally, Lindsay makes an interesting point about how we can best form networks. The most common and effective way, he argues, is to have a good mentor. A mentor can, and usually will, introduce you to other people who can help you. A mentor can do this in a fraction of the time that it would take you to do it on your own. In fact, having more than one mentor who can each help you in a different area is even better.
So, while I still need to fight my instinctive negative reaction to networking, Lindsay’s book certainly helped me develop a more balanced, positive view of how networking can help me in my leadership. I encourage you to check it out.