Shared Wisdom for Successfully Leading Organizations

Why you need to cultivate your personal networks

Networks spark ideas, lead to partnerships and collaboration, and can accelerate impact. They are essential to any leader. It is your responsibility to develop and nurture them, not only for the sake of the organization’s work but also for your own development.

There are three key benefits for cultivating a strong personal network:

  1. You have a sounding board for everyday issues and/or longer-term visioning;
  2. They provide you with access to specialized skills and resources; and
  3. They provide professional development opportunities.

Leading an organization can be lonely. Unlike the board or staff, the CEO does not have peers within the organization.

For first-time CEOs, this can be a difficult adjustment. You no longer have anyone with whom you can discuss everyday challenges, doubts, and frustrations of the job. People will be looking to you for assurance and clarity of direction. When you don’t have clarity, it is hard to discuss your thinking without projecting indecision.

This does not mean that you can never express doubt; just that there are times when it is inappropriate or irrelevant to discuss an issue with the staff or board. It’s important to find a group of individuals outside your organization who have the expertise you need and whom you trust to listen to you when you are trying to work through a difficult issue.

These individuals, who have been or are CEOs themselves, will understand your role and can be your support system. They can provide you with the opportunity to voice your frustration, give you direct and honest feedback, and help you feel less alone, simply by being there.

A second benefit of building personal networks is that they can provide you with direct access to specific expertise.

In addition to the core competencies and skills that are required of most CEOs, such as financial literacy and human resources management, there are other skills particular to leading a specific organization, such as fundraising or political advocacy, and issue-specific content and knowledge that is required to oversee work of the organization.

Although there is always something to learn, a new or first-time CEO may feel insecure or have a steep learning curve in a certain part of the job. Early identification of a group of experts who are willing to provide you with advice and access to resources in one of your weaker areas will accelerate your learning.

The third key reason for establishing a support network is to make sure you don’t isolate yourself and your organization from the larger sector in which you are working. Often the immediate needs of the job can result in a CEO being too inwardly focused and insular. You will be responsible for setting the long-term vision of the organization.

Sound strategic decisions require that a CEO ensures intellectual inputs; a sophisticated understanding of the environment or market and any foreseeable changes; knowledge of best practices; and awareness of the players. As well, you want to make sure that you are constantly improving your skill set by keeping up to date with best management practices.

The most effective leaders are those who are constantly engaged with improving themselves.

Alan Broadbent on the importance of a personal network:

When Ken Battle and I founded the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, we consulted with a number of people about setting up a successful organization, one of whom was my colleague Peter Karoff, the founder and president of the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston. We told him about our conception of Caledon and, amid other information, what our work would be, and how we would be funded.

He somewhat startled us with his first question: “Who are your peers?” We had been almost completely inwardly focused and had thought little about the context in which we were creating Caledon, the places we might find allies or competitors, safe harbours, or rocky shoals. And as much as anything, Peter was advising us to seek strength in common cause with others.

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