Most professionals see networking as an uncomfortable and necessary evil to seek new opportunities, establish influential relationships, and get essential tasks done. Business leaders who want to advance their careers, build their reputations, and develop a personal brand may have to engage in operational and personal networking.

Operational networking enables professionals to build strong and long-lasting relationships with supervisors, subordinates, customers, suppliers, and other personnel within their internal networks. Leaders need to make connections with these people to help complete vital tasks, allocate resources appropriately, and coordinate staff. Robust operational networks comprise relationships built on trust and affinity.

Personal networking helps leaders build relationships with people outside of their organization or immediate circle. Personal contacts can serve as valuable referrals and sources of industry-specific information. Some of these external colleagues can become supportive mentors who can help young professionals with difficult professional issues and find solutions.

Most managers engage primarily in operational and personal networking. Unfortunately, many fall short of engaging in networking that’s more strategic. In addition to using networks for personal and professional development, leaders can use strategic networks to leverage their professional relationships, get a sense of the bigger picture, and take their organizations into the future.

Strategic networking involves developing relationships with stakeholders who can lend support to future priorities and initiatives. Effective leaders continually try to figure out what will help them and their organizations succeed and adapt to economic changes. These leaders understand that strategically utilizing both internal and external networks will help them take their business to new levels.

Of the three types of networking, strategic networking makes the most impact on individual and organizational success. Being strategic means leveraging both internal and external professional connections. In particular, effective leaders find mentors outside their organizations who can help them continue to learn and develop professionally. At the same time, they know not to overlook their current internal networks.

Finally, leaders who are skilled at strategic networking understand that these relationships are mutually beneficial. They know how to give back in response to the mentoring, opportunities, and support they have received from others. Strategic networking requires approaching each connection by reaching out and providing some benefit to the other person first to establish a relationship. 

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