Networking is often misunderstood, but it’s vital for aspiring c-suite leaders. Veronique Elskens and Mario Custadio, Managing Directors in the Executive Search practice at Robert Half, explain why network leadership is one of the must-have skills for senior leadership. Networks matter. In a fast-changing commercial world, c-suite leaders are stronger when they work closely with others to transform a business. Their thoughts, ideas and plans are shaped through conversations in the office, and at industry events. They are more credible, more approachable, and more honest when they can say: ‘I don’t know everything.’ Their networks help them to respond quickly and precisely. They are also more informed and trusted when making decisions. That’s why ‘network leadership’ is one of the must-have key skills for senior leadership. Connect from the heart, forge real relationships We’ve always been in favour of networking, but the word is often misunderstood. It’s seen as something that extrovert salespeople do, socialising for business in the hope of their next deal. But real networking is about connecting with others; about forging real relationships as a support mechanism and sounding board, for mutual benefit. Networking relationships, like any others, are two-way streets. First, it’s important to remember that no-one builds a network when they need it; it’s an ongoing process. A process of exchanging ideas, information, and learning from one another. In business it’s true that we tend to prioritise things which bring immediate results. But, even in sales, the best results come from long lasting relationships. Once you have built a relationship based on trust, it’s much harder to break it. Second, it’s important to connect with others from the heart. A lot is written about empathy in leadership; being open and listening to the feelings and experiences of others. If someone feels genuinely supported and helped, they might recommend you to colleagues and contacts; the more you do this, in an authentic way, the better connections you will develop. Drive change with others Network leadership helps when leading change in a business. Innovation often comes from the people with close knowledge of a process or department. The best people to share opinions about improving production, for example, are those on the factory floor. If c-suite leaders create an environment in which people can speak up, and their ideas become reality, their internal network becomes stronger. Networks help when delivering projects, too. A brilliant idea will be hard to deliver without close relationships. We have also seen a shift towards chief executives and chief financial officers as true business partners. In conversations about artificial intelligence, for example, both have to understand what drives other departments and the connections between them. And the best c-suite leaders understand a business in this way. The young connectors We are seeing network leadership in young leaders, too. Since the age of eighteen, aspiring c-suite executives in their thirties have been networking. Internally, they recognise they don’t know everything, and knowledge is found in other people. This approach is also helping them to manage through the generations. Externally, they meet with industry peers in small groups and learn what is happening with everyone else. This helps them to evaluate ideas before making decisions. It also helps them to build trust in the market. They believe that helping others and building a community is the right way to get things done. Network leadership is based on real relationships, forged over time. It is supportive and helpful to others, and a collective approach to transforming a business. Yes, it takes consistent effort. But a strong network will achieve great results because people feel connected, consulted and considered. That’s why networks matter. That’s why aspiring c-suite candidates should build them. And that’s why network leadership is one of the must-have key skills for senior leadership in 2024. Veronique Elskens is Regional Director for Executive Search in BeNeLux. Mario Custodio is Managing Director for Executive Search in Brazil.
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