5 tips for C-Suite Executives to Expand Their Network


Networking is a key component of personal and professional growth. An individual’s network reflects their values, priorities, interests, and more. Starting from early childhood, friends and acquaintances are a determining aspect of life. In Dan Pena’s words, “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are”. Networking is an evolving and iterative process throughout life. At C-level efficiency, reciprocation and lifelong learning are prudent to their network. Time is limited and targeted networking is imperative. However, one must not underestimate the value of opening the door wider, to listen and absorb learnings from other sectors and interests.

Developing an advanced network is about bringing the basics back into focus: reciprocation, keeping networks authentic with purpose, using a system that works, and expanding horizons through lifelong learning.

1. Reciprocating
When it comes to networks, it is crucial to be a giver. Harvey Mackay, best-selling author, founder, and CEO, believes that “without reciprocity, you can come off quite selfishly - and lose rapport among your connections.” Give wholeheartedly to the trusted connections that took time, effort, and persistence to build.

CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, Sallie Krawchek, strongly believes in the value of giving. She explains further, stating, “my advice for folks on networking is give, give, give. You will later receive.” It’s about nurturing a network by showing genuine interest and care for the development of individuals.

Being effective in reciprocity requires C-suite executives to listen and keep notes of contacts’ needs and interests. When asking for a favor, it is important to consider ways to extend that favor in return. Reciprocity is at the heart of developing meaningful and impactful relationships.

2. Authenticity
Authenticity in a network is all about purpose. Identify areas or topics where an impact can be made. Are there circles of influence that can be joined in pursuit of common goals? Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, responsible for the organization’s transformation to Net positive, is a strong advocate for purpose-driven networking. “We need bold partnerships to move nations and industries with real speed and scale.” In his statement, referring to the necessity for collaboration, Polman defines his purpose towards forming relationships with entities that can help deliver the same promise he made to Unilever.

Richard Branson also champions purpose-driven networking. In his journey to building Virgin Media up to its current height, he networked with musicians, agents, and distributors who aligned with his vision, “it is important that as you build your network, you look for smart, supportive partners who understand and share your goals for the business.”

3. Keeping track
Establishing an authentic network takes time and effort, and can usually move CXO’s attention away from other important aspects of life. Making time for family, friends, and valued connections is difficult to achieve without a system to help organize contacts and important details about them.

Val Olson, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach, discusses the imperative nature of keeping track of your contacts’ interests and details. “It will help you follow up because the next time you reach out, you can ask how the person’s new hobby of ocean swimming is going or send the person an article related to what you discussed.” It is important for a C-suite executive to identify a platform that enables efficient tracking of contacts, their work, interests, and personal details.

Traditional platforms such as LinkedIn are great to utilize in staying in-touch and keeping notes on contacts, however, personal CRM’s (pCRM) prove to be more efficient. Consider exploring pCRMs that focus on building strong relationships within both professional and personal networks.

4. Widening the lens
Expanding horizons requires stepping out of comfort zones to explore unknown knowledge areas. Contacts within a network can help broaden the lens of interests to include clubs and activities that other c-suite executives are pursuing. Typically, exploring these interests happen through informal activities such as wine clubs, cycling, trekking, golfing, and art and culture. Relationships are built through sharing stories, endurance, thoughts, and ideas, during activities and engagements.

Diversifying interests and spheres of influence through a network can help drive performance in the professional areas of a C-level executive. Experts and academics in the finance sector, Yiwei Fang, Bill Francis, and Iftekhar Hasan conducted a study for the Harvard Business Review, and state that, “our findings suggest that the more diverse the social networks of the CEO area, the greater the growth opportunities are for the firm through exposure to different types of information and knowledge.”

5. Join a CxO peer group
Peer groups are a great way to gain access to diversified knowledge areas, and a higher level perspective on mutual knowledge areas. When running a company, it can be easy to lose sight of oneself. Sometimes, it can seem that nobody can understand or relate to an executive’s challenges, except another executive. Fortunately, there are CxO peer groups that can act as sounding boards, give constructive feedback, offer emotional support, and open opportunities.

They are an excellent space for C-level executives to share insights on challenging matters, a space where leaders can openly receive feedback on their approaches to the problems their businesses are facing. It costs money to gain access to these groups because of the way they are structured, there are typically high caliber individuals who offer valuable insights, and they meet frequently to discuss important matters in-depth.

Electronic Arts’ Head of Profitable Creativity, Andy Billings, states that peer groups “normalize the challenges of being a leader and help build courage to step up to them”. It is rare to find groups of individuals who can encourage CxO’s to open up about the difficulties they face every day, and that’s one main reason why peer groups hold incredible value for leaders across sectors and industries.

Rigid time constraints, demanding deliverables, and the need to show leadership can take time away from CxOs ability to network. Keeping family, friends, and trusted contacts in the loop will be easier and smoother with these five tips in mind. Remember to be reciprocal, keep networks authentic, use a system to make the process more efficient, and to seek the networking value in lifelong learning.

Yiannis Gavrielides is the co-founder and CEO of Covve, helping professionals grow and nurture their contact network. He actively supports entrepreneurship as a partner at Invelopment Partners.


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