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If you're an aspiring emerging leader, part of your ongoing development plan should be to expand your network.
Having a network of strong working relationships across your organization can connect you with hidden information, resources and opportunities to help strengthen your leadership brand.
Having a great network also makes it easier to get your job done, influence outcomes and gain buy-in more easily — three critical skills every good leader should possess.
So who do you look for when it comes time to network? To maximize your time, consider starting with the five key people you need in your network.
1 The Connector
The connector is a true 'people person,' one who seems to know — and have great relationships with — just everyone. They also put others at ease.
What's more, this type of person loves to open doors and make introductions. Watch them and learn how to move with access and ease through a powerful network of strong supporters.
2 The Informational Powerhouse
This person is like a human grapevine. They love to keep a finger on the pulse of what's going on and stay current on organizational issues. Like hoarders of data, they filter useful information from gossip — or just 'noise' — and seem to know about important changes before they occur.
Seek them out when you need to know about new trends, ideas, projects, opportunities and so on. By using your informational powerhouse as a sounding board, you'll be able to make better business decisions more rapidly and with greater confidence.
3 The Influencer
The Influencer is not necessarily a high-level or high-profile leader, but they somehow have a natural ability to make things happen just the same. They get people on board with ideas and initiatives, gain agreement and collaboration from teams, and they have a voice with senior leadership.
Their early support can guarantee the success of your initiatives and their advocacy can get you noticed in a meaningful and pro-active way.
4 The Mentor
Many of the senior-level leaders I coach can trace their career advancement back to a single turning point, when a mentor advised them on something they needed to be doing differently. Never underestimate the power of a personal mentor in your network.
5 The Sponsor
These are your manager's peers — and those ranked above them — and they have the power to dramatically accelerate your career. Interacting with them frequently can help you align your work effort with your organization's strategic goals.
They have the ability to single you out for recognition and connect you to special assignments or even promotions.
If you spend a lot of time building relationships with an obvious agenda, people will be used to seeing you only when you need something from them. Unfortunately this trains them to not look forward to seeing you — not exactly optimal conditions when building a solid network of supporters and collaborators.
Instead, my recommendation is to set aside an hour or two per week solely dedicated to building relationships with people at times when you don't need anything from them. Building a network ultimately requires finesse, diplomacy and a willingness to give as much as you get.
• Jo Miller is a founding editor of BeLeaderly.com and CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching Inc., @jo_miller