Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Power Up Your Network

Monday, March 07, 2011

Power Up Your Network

When asked where I see my niche as an executive coach, I talk about my passion for the helping people become more influential - the world of Power, Influence and Politics. Whether you are a Six Sigma/Lean Champion trying to implement new processes, a COO driving the business strategy, a regional Managing Director balancing the needs of the region around corporate directives, or an HR director seeking a "seat at the table", becoming and staying influential is key to being able to do good work and get the results you want.

In this newsletter series on Power, Influence and Politics, we are exploring the following topics. How do people become, and stay, influential? Where does power come from, and how can power be increased? Is there a way to be politically astute without being "political"? The last newsletter kicked off the series with the "5 A's of Relationships", that is, understanding your network. In this issue, we'll look at ways to use your network that will enhance power and influence.

As you read this articles, give consideration to how these skills areas could enhance the work of your team, your managers or even your own work. If you see a gap let's talk about how workshops, group coaching or executive coaching can bring about rapid skill development.

Power Up Your Network

In her book, "It's All Politics", Kathleen Reardon Kelley asks the question, "...who will vouch for you if they don't understand you because you seem to foreign, too much of an unknown, too much of a risk?" Powering up your network is about building capability to influence organizations and other people to move in the direction of your good ideas - whether that in hiring you for a job, supporting your strategic initiatives, or giving you the resources and flexibility to pilot a new project. Discussions about networking normally focus on expanding the network, but here we're talking about the key levers in enhancing your existing relationships - your 5 A's of Relationships - Advocates, Advisors, Allies, Acquaintances, and Adversaries.The first step in exploring the 5 A's of Relationships is to build a chart identifying the advocates, advisors, allies, acquaintances and adversaries in each segment of your life – work, community and personal. Fill in the chart with names of people key to your current objective (promotion, job change, implementing a new idea, etc.)

Every sales person knows that we are more likely to trust and respect those who resemble us. The area of FIT is about finding the places of connection, of commonality, of resemblance. To influence fit, do these quick assessments.

  1. What kind of culture your contact live/work in? Is it focused on rational decision-making? Focused on the team and working together? Driven by high standards of excellence and urgency? Or one catalzyed by innovation and creativity?
  2. What key experiences shape the thinking of your contact?
  3. Do you have any similar intellectual pursuits or common outside interests?

Being uniquely different is an asset, yet in powering up your network, it's critical to build a connection to the people in your network by establishing how you FIT together. Choose your topics, present your ideas, and demonstrate respect for them with a focus on the FIT - the points of resemblance.

While the concept of "face" is commonly thought of in an Asian context, sociologists note that it is an aspect of every social interaction. Face is the social value we claim for ourselves or grant to other during a contact.

As you approach a conversation, email, or meeting, consider the following:

  1. Am I giving and asking for respect and trust in how I put myself forward, in areas of dress, demeanor, handshakes, etc?
  2. Are you finding ways to avoid direct threats to others - graciously saying no, focusing on areas of agreement and cautiously approaching disagreements, and using indirect communication when appropriate?

Whether it's a piece of information, tickets to a football game, helping someone with a task, or giving a reference, gifts or favors feed the power in a network. Research shows that the practice of gift exchange is a factor in building binding relationships with another. It can also be used to gain a form of superiority over other individuals through their indebtedness. Finally, social scientists have demonstrated that requesting favors can strengthen relationships as well, as long as the person being asked is able and willing to do so, and consequently feel benevolent.

The question here is a simple one:

  1. What do I know, have, or can point someone towards that would be of value to them that would strengthen our relationship?
  2. Who is both willing and able to support me in small ways that would increase our connection?

You are the fulcrum around which your network pivots, and a strategic choice becomes where you place the fulcrum - around building a large number of loose ties or a fewer strong ties based on more frequent interactions.

The optimum networking strategy according to Jeffrey Pfeffer in "Power" is to "know a lot of different people from different circles, have multiple organizational affiliations in a variety of different industries and sector that are geographically dispersed, but not necessarily to know the people well or to develop close ties." It's particularly useful to focus these energies around high-status people. The challenge is to build these relationships is a genuine way - one based on the sharing of common ground (fit), respect and trust (face), and reciprocity and benevolence (favors).

  1. What kind of organization could you start that would have a compelling mission that would draw from your diverse and dispersed network, and perhaps draw in high-status individuals?
  2. What meetings, seminars, events, or outings should you attend to expand and deepen your network?
  3. What steps can you routinely take before, during and after you meet new people to add them to your usable network?


  1. BREADTH - Take at look at the 5 A's chart you created. Begin to assess whether you have a widely dispersed network as suggested above, or one very narrowly defined. Where can you connect from the past, the current or future to increase the breadth of your network?
  2. DEPTH - With each interaction, how can I deepen my connection with this person through fit, face or favor? How do I do this in a way that provides positive social value to me and the other person? Please remember to find the balance here!
  3. Based on this assessment, what are the key actions you could take over the next week? The next month? The next 90 days?

The next newsletter will continue the focus on using your network to increase your power and influence. In the meantime, please feel free to send me your comments and questions.

Read Solutions Group focuses on the leadership skills that deliver business results in changing organizations. Sherry is highly skilled at transforming leaders who are successful and stuck, into ones who are confident, capable and moving forward.

Call Sherry today to learn how she can assist you with your personal leadership and career challenges, or how she can support your organization with customized workshops, coach-the-coach training, team facilitation, and executive coaching.

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