It’s well known that networking is the key to a successful career. You can have the skills and the education, but without connections, it will be very difficult to get a job, get promoted or even build a business.
Strong leaders who have been able to differentiate their abilities from their peers have a key fact in common:
They have built a strong network of “strategic supporters”.
Strategic supporters are not a list of names from business cards you’ve collected at a networking event. Nor are they likely your happy-hour buddies.
Strategic supporters are people in your network – who have the right credentials, know-how, and passion – to mentor, support, or advocate for you and your causes, even when you are not physically present.
Think about it. What ultra-achieving leader accomplished their status all by themselves?
Michael Phelps, one of Team United States’ darlings of the 2016 Rio Olympics, is an accomplished leader in his own right. However, part of his team of strategic supporters included his coach, mother, fiance, fellow swimmers, publicist, and medical recovery team (remember the bright purple circles on his shoulders?).
Oprah may still hold the title of “queen of talk”, but she did not reach her current heights without help from the likes of her friend Gayle King, trusted producers, and key confidantes. Even of her success today via the OWN network, she says, “”I try to surround myself with people who really know what they’re doing and give them the freedom to do it.” Talk about having the right people with the right know-how to support and advocate for you!
A lot of people have trouble with building a strong network of strategic supporters because they are introverted or feel like they are bothering this influential set of people. Others just don’t know how to go about it.
No matter your challenge, here are 4 tips that will help you begin to build a strong network of strategic supporters – even if you’re not a natural schmoozer.
1. Get clear on your “why”: Pinpoint the exact reasons you need strategic supporters and what you would like them to help you accomplish. Create a brief story about your goals and where you could use extra help, like advice or advocacy. Practice saying your “why” out loud so that you become comfortable in telling your story. Believe me, you will appreciate being prepared during that first lunch meeting with those you target to ask to be one of your strategic supporters!
2. Create a personal advisory board: Now that you are clear on your goals, you now need to find ideal candidates to be part of your team of strategic supporters. Start by creating a shortlist of potential individuals that you would like to be part of your personal advisory board. These are people that you have already built relationships with and of whom you know and trust their advice and counsel. The members of your personal advisory board not only will likely become your strategic supporters as well, but they will also make recommendations for other key influencers that you should meet.
3. Ask for the meeting with a clear win-win emphasis. It’s very important that both you and the potential new strategic supporter both find value when networking. Be prepared to offer something back to them, even if it is the promise to help them out in the future. For each person on your list, reach out and ask to schedule an appointment with them. Let them know up front that you would like to seek their advice and counsel and are willing to return the favor, if desired. I have not come across a single individual who has not been flattered to be asked to become my strategic supporter. Even if they determine that they are not the right person or that they do not have the time, they are honored by the ask and do their best to find someone else in their network that can better help you. Get off the sidelines and get in the game by taking action and ASK!
4. Stay on top of your game: Successful leaders want to be around other successful leaders. A wise supporter of mine once told me that the average CXO focuses on deepening relationships with 3-8 people per year, of which 1-2 may end up becoming a strategic supporter of theirs. They also invest in reading an enormous amount of books and articles on both leadership and their functional expertise. If you want to lead, read what leaders are reading so you can better share insights and add value. Be on top of best practices in your field and find ways to give back to others, even if it is introducing them to people who would be valuable for them to know. Have something to share with your strategic supporter each time you have a catch-up meeting with them.
Helping high performing leaders like yourself is why I come to work everyday. I would be honored to help you build your own network of powerful strategic supporters!
P.S. If you liked this post, I have a sneaky suspicion that you may be interested in joining our community of career-savvy ultra-achievers!
Karan Ferrell-Rhodes is the CEO of Shockingly Different Leadership, a leadership development consultancy that develops both in-house and external leadership programs which transform high potential leaders into “ultra-achievers” in their organization. Don’t forget to ask about our coaching packages, assessments, mentoring programs, and leadership labs!