Networking for Executives: Practical Tips for Building, Growing, and Serving your Network
Executives and thought leaders are using social media more than ever before. 2020 research by Influential Executive estimated that 62% of CEOs had a profile on at least one social media platform, a 15% increase since 2019. The pandemic has likely brought more executives to social media in 2021 and 2022.
Some of these executives post regularly while others use LinkedIn and Twitter to monitor the industry landscape and conversations. On LinkedIn, you can establish the brand for your organization, recruit top-performing candidates, and announce industry events.
Networking is about offering your expertise in specific subject areas, connecting with fellow leaders across the industry, learning from each other, and elevating the standards in your profession.
As a business leader, how can you optimize the time you dedicate to social media to gain the best results – for your brand, people, and the industry as a whole? Here are some practical ideas for executive networking.
Define your networking motivation and set the foundation.
1. Know your “why” and your teams.
To lead people, you need to have a genuine interest in others. Before you start growing your presence on LinkedIn, reflect on your intrinsic motivation at the moment. What about leading people inspires you? In what new ways do you want to support them, in line with the evolving social and economic trends and your company’s business goals?
To move things forward, what information do you need now from your teams about their drivers, expectations, ideas, and needs in the workplace? Review the ways you gather this information: employee surveys, one-on-ones, or weekly calls/meetings. What can you do differently to build more trust, based on how you would like to be treated as an employee? Share these ideas with other leaders in your industry to discover what they do.
2. Review your current network and draft your networking map.
Think about your broader network first, as a foundation. It may include:
✓ former colleagues
✓ relatives of your friends
✓ club members
✓ executive search firms and recruiters
✓ professional association contacts
✓ financial advisors
✓ real estate agents
✓ healthcare and wellness service providers
✓ hourly consultants you had hired before for your business
✓ past business partners
✓ civic leaders in your community
✓ community organization committee members
✓ other board members.
Make a list of these people and review existing relationships; revive them as applicable. Add some of them to your network on LinkedIn. This will help you get used to the platform’s functionality, if you have not been active on it for a while.
Additionally, review your profile for completeness and key sections to make sure it is easy to read. Use this worksheet to refresh your profile.
3. Use your network as a talent pool to stay competitive in your industry.
Keep building ties with highly qualified professionals you could hire or engage as consultants on your projects, even if you do not have open projects at the moment. You can find these professionals through LinkedIn search or top training programs in your industry.
4. Strengthen your existing team by communicating with them, including via LinkedIn.
Empower your broader team by articulating the common purpose and celebrating your team’s and individual employees’ successes. You can do this via LinkedIn posts, LinkedIn recommendations, emails to the team, or during company events. Regular expression of gratitude and interest in your employees’ development will make them feel heard—and willing to support your company’s efforts, in various market conditions.
5. Be consistent in your LinkedIn activity.
You may not always see tangible results immediately, but your regular, intentional networking efforts will grow your brand and bring more interested colleagues and partners. A regular online networking habit will also give you new insights into online tools and digital trends. You define how often you want to use LinkedIn; the only suggestion is to be consistent. For instance, it can be once or twice a week for 20 minutes.
Know your core audiences and grow your network on a regular basis.
Once you know why you plan to spend a certain amount of time weekly on LinkedIn, decide how you will grow your network.
1. Pay attention to the diversity of your network.
Regularly include and invite people of various career levels, industries, genders, and ethnicities. Talk about the problems that they are solving and how they are innovating in their lines of work.
2. Build your network to be able to hire top performers.
Around 50% of employers claim that their high-quality hires come from referrals. You can build your personal LinkedIn network to add potential hires at every level of their career development: from top-performing recent graduates to mid-level and senior managers.
To do so, you can follow recent awards in the industry for individual contributors and top education programs. Also, look for new programs that emerged in the industry in the past 2-3 years and connect with program leaders and professors.
Add specialized recruiters and executive search firms to your network. They may be able to either help you hire people for your team or find you your next leadership opportunity. When you have a strong professional network, your next job search or career transition can go much faster.
If you ever consider transitioning to executive consulting, the connections you nurture over the years will offer valuable insights, introductions, new meaningful connections, and business opportunities because they already know your specializations and successes.
Continue adding business owners, senior executives, Human Resources professionals, investment professionals, fellow association members, and managers to your network on a regular basis.
3. Create forums to advance the standards in your industry.
In your niche, is a specialized forum for like-minded professionals currently missing? If so, create one. Assemble a small group of 10-20 people in similar roles to share expertise and best practices. Such peer networks and networking groups can meet via Zoom or in person to discuss the latest industry practices and enrich each other’s standards. You can share actionable insights, data from research, and practical tips to improve products and services for your client groups.
Set a time and format to discuss controversial topics or challenges with your peer network. Define the agenda and goals for such meetings; focus on hearing different perspectives and discovering solutions that can make your business competitive.
Think about how you could occasionally turn your competitors into collaborators. Are there projects you could start together to improve the overall state of the industry and the quality of products or services for your clients? Are there causes that unite competitors for the greater good?
4. Grow your network using your public speaking and coaching skills.
Invite influential speakers to present at your company or propose your own presentations to offer your perspective. Invite people to connect with you after such events. Business networking with large audiences allows for exposure and influence that may continue to send you new connections for weeks or months after the event.
Be a thought leader in your industry. You may focus on general trends or position yourself as a subject matter expert in a certain niche. Let your strong knowledge of your audiences determine your approach and the format for your ideas.
Regularly connect with other business leaders and entrepreneurs as well as community leaders, government officials, non-profit organizations, and academic faculty. Be aware of business leaders at all levels, from small business owners to dynamic start-ups and Fortune 500 companies.
Leaders create leaders. Who on your team could benefit from more mentoring or coaching in the next few months to gain more inspiration and responsibility in the company? Through coaching, you gain reliable partners who will advance your vision and mission.
Plan your content strategy and tone based on your audience.
Once you are clear about your networking goals and know how to grow your network on a regular basis, reflect on your tone and content strategy. As a subject matter expert and a leader of people, what messages would you like to share with your readers?
1. Know what makes your perspective unique and be confident that others would appreciate it.
How could you share your unique perspective on recent industry shifts? While your peers are aware of these shifts, your perspective or recent innovations can be of value to them. Tell your readers what you personally think about a certain trend and how you navigate it. Share your ideas supported with facts to start meaningful, specialized discussions.
Perhaps you are of the generation of executives that are highly aware of social justice and developments in mental health studies. With this perspective, you can help other leaders operate in more ethical, people-focused ways. Maybe you come from the generation of executives who have seen a variety of crises over the past few decades. Your knowledge of how markets even out and how teams overcome a crisis can empower your readers with new ideas on handling change.
2. Dedicate posts to celebrating your people and the industry.
In some of your posts, celebrate a colleague, a project, or an industry event. Topics to highlight may include the start or the end of an important project, a new colleague joining the team, a colleague’s promotion, a colleague’s publication, a work anniversary, a great webinar, a conference session you attended, or a major change in policy that impacts your industry positively. Take the time to spread the good news.
Have you recently promoted an employee to a leadership role? If so, post about your leadership development strategy. Your colleagues and peers may gain useful insights from you. Employee retention and business continuity are major challenges for businesses in all industries, post-COVID. How can executives from various industries learn from each other about retaining talent?
Celebrate your clients’ or peers’ achievements. Like and comment on their posts that announce new training, new ventures, promotions, or other career advancement. Tell them why you like(d) working with them. We are stronger and better when we uplift and recommend each other.
3. Ask your team members to write you a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile.
Asking for recommendations is one way to highlight your soft skills (leadership, communication, emotional intelligence) since these skills are best described by others, not by ourselves. This will also give you a better idea of what you do well for the team to continue positive influence.
4. Experiment with content formats and get your team to share your content.
A strong following from your employees will help you share your content. You can write shorter posts and longer LinkedIn articles. LinkedIn Article is a great tool to publish a longer post, have it easily accessible under the Articles tab in your Activity section (in case your readers want to read it later), and use hyperlinks and quotes in the body of the text.
Work consistently on your personal development: emotional intelligence, leadership development, social justice, climate awareness, compassionate leadership, and more.
Personal development always comes before our professional successes. Our professional titles may change multiple times over the course of our careers. Being in touch with our humanity comes first. It is the nature of the human mind to generate expectations and measure results. When it comes to building relationships, check your expectations and reassess them to allow for more gradual developments. Trust is built in small moments, over time.
1. Commit to developing your listening skills as a life-long practice.
When you join an organization in a leadership role, take time to conduct a listening tour with your team members and key stakeholders. Giving them space to share their ideas will help you build a strong foundation for productive relationships and gain clarity on communication styles in the new organization.
Communicate with the others in mind. We often communicate from habit and are not always aware of our tone in the moment. Practice the pause before you communicate an important message or meet with an employee one-on-one. What new ways could you add to your practice of listening to the division leaders in your organization or fellow executives in your industry?
2. Plan to grow and evolve in your upcoming or current role.
Write down 2-3 priority skills that you can improve in this role and environment. Write down some action items that can help you do this, inside the company or externally.
Choose an executive coach carefully. You may be looking for someone with similar personality traits, a coach who can challenge you while providing a safe space to grow, or a strategic coach who can help you achieve your short-term goals.
Reflect on your preferences first, identify the ideal coach profile for your current needs, and look for someone who can meet most of those expectations. When you have an introductory call with an executive coach or while working together, learn about other coaching specializations you or somebody on your team may benefit from.
3. Think of new ways to collect feedback from your team and peers outside of your organization.
Leadership is a never-ending journey. Speak with your teams about the latest directions and/or challenges. Speak with your peers in the industry about the same. Many leaders may be facing similar challenges across various organizational functions.
Seek and discuss innovations frequently, internally and externally. Ask your peers about their favorite resources on women’s issues in the workplace, social justice, mental health, disability, diversity and inclusion, sustainable business practices, and ethical business practices.
Partner with executives of various generations and cultures to learn about emotional intelligence and how you can support your teams through periods of change, rapid growth, downsizing, or any other ambiguity. The economy is more dynamic now, given all the available technologies as well as the global crises. People react emotionally to change, and anxiety and burnout are real.
Reflect on the gaps you may have in your own emotional intelligence and somatic practices. How do you manage your stress? How can you support your team members if they have triggering responses? How do you integrate facts and empathy into your leadership?
Seek regular exchanges with coaches, fellow executives, and team members. It will help you understand the scope of human emotions and ways to regulate them, with your own example and through compassionate leadership.
Your executive networking practice is an investment in your personal brand, company brand, team productivity, and industry standards. It is a gradually growing practice that allows for self-reflection and connection at every step of the way. You define your online privacy settings and the time commitment(s), with a larger goal in mind: to serve your teams and clients and to build a network that will support you when needed.
About the author: