Professional women are constantly bombarded with advice about the importance of growing their network.

Build your personal board of directors.

Use every opportunity to network.

It is not what you know, it is who you know.

It is all very inspiring, but it is not always intuitive and it can be quite intimidating. With the global pandemic we find ourselves in, traditional networking opportunities are no longer available, making it more difficult for women to form genuine and strategic relationships.

That said, it is more important than ever to be intentional about investing in and seeking out the right relationships we need to thrive both personally and professionally.

But who should be in my network?

That is the most common question we get from our clients. By combining research on the characteristics of an effective network, what we know about gender differences in networking, and how our social networks affect our wellbeing, we have created a recipe for what we call your “success circle,” which is comprised of the nine types of people everyone should have in their network.

1) Co-striver

Someone who is working to achieve something similar to you.

This person can be a professional or personal connection; perhaps you are training for a triathlon with this person, or you and your co-striver are both seeking promotions within your organization. A co-striver is someone who can relate to you based on a shared goal and is there for support and encouragement as you both work toward your goal.

2) Super connector

They know everyone and everyone knows them. They can introduce you to the ‘right people.’

Having a super connector in your network is crucial for your future success. This person connects you with people and influential groups that you may not typically have access to, expanding the connectivity and dynamism of your network. Super connectors enjoy connecting people in their network, so do not be afraid to ask them for that desired introduction!

3) Champion

Your cheerleader and someone who believes in you.

We all need a champion in our success circle! This person is always cheering you on and regularly sings your praises or defends you, even when you are not in the room.

4) Re-energizer

A person you can call when you need a boost of energy and inspiration.

A re-energizer is a person who should be on your speed dial. This is someone you naturally want to call when you’re feeling down, because they lift you up instantly.

5) Mentor

A person more experienced with wisdom to share and desire to help you succeed.

A mentorship relationship should be a formal, structured relationship where there is sharing of knowledge, expertise, and encouragement.

6) Sponsor

A leader who will take charge to advocate for you for career advancement opportunities.

Different than a mentor, a sponsor is someone who chooses to advocate for you, even behind closed doors with other leaders. Research continuously shows that sponsors are critical to helping aspiring women leaders gain the perspective and connections they need to take on more complex roles and advance their careers.

7) Community

Anywhere you feel a sense of belonging and a safe space to be yourself.

This could be your gym, your place of worship, your mom’s group, etc. These are what you would call “your people” and there is something you have in common with this group that bonds you.

8) Accountability partner

The person holding you responsible; your ‘tough love.’

Science proves that having an accountability partner increases the likelihood of achieving your goals. An accountability partner is a partnership where you mutually agree to coach each other and provide feedback on a regular basis, helping you keep your commitments.

9) Diverse perspective

The person(s) who are really great at what they do, but they do not look like you, have your background, education, or the same network.

These people help us counteract our unconscious bias, open our minds to other ways of thinking, and further diversify our network.

Activate your success circle

Once you have identified your success circle, it is important to activate your success circle, which means being intentional about investing in these relationships.

Here are a few tips for activating your success circle.

Proactively pencil them in

How often do we find ourselves saying, “Let us catch up soon,” but then we fail to actually schedule the time to do so? One of the best things you can do is proactively schedule time with the people in your success circle.

Have a tough week ahead? Schedule some time to call one or two people from your very re-energize group. Feeling challenged by a new work project and need some advice? It may be time to call your mentor.

Share your goals with them

We all have things we want to achieve. One of the best ways to keep in touch with your success circle is to inform them of your goals. Not only is this going to help with accountability, but you would be surprised how people are able to help you when they understand what it is you want to accomplish. Be sure to ask them what their goals are, too, and how you might be able to support them and work together.

Make it a symbiotic relationship

Do not hesitate to leverage your success circle when you need an “in” or introduction to someone outside of your network, keeping in mind that you also bring value to the relationship.

Someone in your circle may come to you asking for a favour. If you are not the person for the job, someone else in your success circle might be, so pass it on and share the wealth of your network with others.