Last week I spoke about networking to get to advance your career. Today I want to talk about another type of networking vital to leadership success, internal networking.
As a career and leadership coach that works with mid-to senior-level professionals, one common issue that I hear about is; how to influence and persuade others that are not under your direct report org to get things done and succeed? This question is one that I struggled myself early on in my career when I was transitioning from an individual contributor to a leadership position.
Looking back, it makes a lot of sense why I struggled.
As BIPOC professionals, our upbringing, for the most part, does not teach us how to influence and persuade up and across. Instead, we are in many ways conditioned to work alone. We are told to keep our thoughts to ourselves and to put our heads down and work hard.
I learned this lesson back in the day, as the newly promoted Director of HR that had to get policies and programs rolled out in the organization. Frustrated by the lack of traction, I ask my CEO, who I was reporting at the time, to give me the "authority" to get people to follow through. His reply made me question my understanding of leadership and broaden my perspective. He said, "leaders have followers and that I needed to expand my followers" At first, his advice did not make any sense. Then, I realized that I was making a big mistake in confusing authority with title and that I needed to first and foremost build my internal network and "debits" within the company laterally and diagonally, not just upwards and downwards. To persuade and influence others to "follow."
From that experience, I learned these five principles that I now like to share with you. `
Know your peers
If you like to get things done as a new executive, one of the first moves you should make is to get to know the other executives at your peer level. This strategy will allow you to build the coalition that you'll need (when the time comes) to get things done. Don't wait for your boss or HR to make intros; instead, go on a listening tour or, these days, a zoom listening tour.
When you do this, it is super important to ask open-ended questions that focus on what is important to them (and not you). Some examples are:
What are key projects or initiatives that you are trying to achieve this year?
What does success look like for you?
How can I and, by extension, my team support you to achieve success?
What would you like my team to stop, start, and continue doing?
What advice do you have for me as a new member of the team?
How do you like to keep the communication going between you and me?
How do you want to address any issues or conflicts that might arise between the two teams?
By asking these open-ended questions, you will demonstrate that you care about them. The conversation will probably deepen and expand to identify ways to work together and build trust, which is the second principle below.
Trust is a hot commodity, and if you are able to build trust, you can get so much more. You can build trust quickly by asking open-ended questions like the ones above and using active listening paired with mirroring.
Active listening is defined by focusing entirely on what the other person is saying and not saying. For this, we must make sure we are completely present for the other person. Allow them to finish their thoughts without interrupting them.
Let me see if I understand you correctly. What you just said is ____?.
Did I hear that right? How does that resonate with you?
However, I would suggest scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly check-in with your peers for the long term. It could be in the form of one-to-one or a group call. A regular cadence of communication is the antidote to distrust and helps reduce the potential for false assumptions and interpretations that could lead to silos.
One thing is clear; it does not matter how much communication and rapport you've built if you do not cultivate credibility as someone that is a team player and can get things done within the established timeframe.
To cement your credibility as a leader who cares about their peers' success, ensure that you have the actions to back it up. Activities that help your peers increase their productivity, save time, and help them (and their overall team) look good. Some examples of these type of opportunities are:
Partner with a peer to win a new business.
Ask provoking questions and work with a peer to change a process to save time for everyone.
Collaborate with ways to decrease expenses and optimize budgets.
Find areas of potential collaboration and commit resources to get it done.
This last example leads me to another important point;
Cross- Peer Collaboration
Collaborating with peers is, by default, not easy, mainly because there is a lot of "ego" involved. Many executives don't want even to get close to the thought of opening up their ideas to peer review for fear of rejection or simply because their egos are on the line. After all, they have been in the field and went to school to specialize in the subject in many circumstances. This attitude is detrimental because it does not facilitate buy-in or support and leads to resistance and the initiative's adoption failure.
This is exactly what happened to me. I did not run my idea/ process by the other heads of the department and therefore did not get the support I needed for the program's adoption on that first run. The second time around, I made sure I had the input of the other department heads, and voila, the rollout and adoption ran much more smoothly than the first go.
Have Coequal Mindset
One last principle that is particularly challenging for BIPOC and minority professionals is to show up with a coequal mindset.
Having an "I'm your equal" attitude is critical because it is about a title and power dynamics as you climb the leadership ranks.
If you are showing up thinking, "I do not know enough___ to be here" or "I'm don't fit in here," Those thoughts are going to translate into unconscious behaviors that will hinder you. As a result, you will not command respect and signal to others that you do not belong.
Examples of such behaviors are:
Collapsing in the chair or not sitting upright.
Sitting as far away as possible, not sitting at the table.
Not speaking up.
Agreeing to fast ei "That's a great idea," or, "I couldn't agree more."
Not pushing back and not asking for anything in return (being dumped.)
Instead, challenge those thought patterns, those stories and assumptions, and course-correct:
Speak up, ask questions, provide your ideas.
Sit at the table.
Push back and ask for things that the other side can contribute as well.
Step into your power
I know how hard it's to overcome self-limiting beliefs, self-doubt, and fears. However, imagine how far you can go if you develop the confidence to step into your power and show up with that fearless mindset?
If you are ready to elevate and own your voice, stop feeling "less than" and experience the possibilities apply here.