Networking your way to executive success

Business does not operate in a vacuum, and for a leader to succeed, interpersonal skills such as relationship building are just as crucial as the technical skills they possess.

We are often taught the importance of networking in the earliest stages of our career – the famous mantra of “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. This critical competency rises even further in importance for those leading an organisation.

With that in mind, it’s essential to find the right balance between quantity and quality when building your executive network. A large network will not necessarily contribute favourably to your career if it is not filled with the appropriate individuals who can drive your executive development.

Therefore, just like any major business activity, a strategic approach to networking is vital. Here are some points to consider when expanding your web of corporate relationships.

Why leaders need to network

So why exactly is networking so important to the modern business leader, and what benefits does it bring?

In a Psychology Today article, author Ray Williams even goes as far to call networking “the essential professional skill”. In the article, he cites numerous experts in the field to build an argument for why networking needs to be a priority for any professional.

For example, he cites Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap who, in their Harvard Business Review article entitled “How To Build Your Network”, claim that networking comes with “three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power”.

According to Uzzi and Dunlap, business leaders can often recognise these three advantages being enacted in their day-to-day work – however, many do not realise just how big a role networking plays in all this.

Further, in an article for the INSEAD Knowledge blog, Professor of Organisational Behaviour Herminia Ibarra takes a unique spin on the classic networking slogan and argues that “what you know is who you know”. In other words, what and who you know are just as important, and leaders need to learn how to marry these two for the benefit of the business.

“Other things being equal, what is going to give you an edge?” she asks.

“It’s the relationships that you have that allow you to augment what you know and allow you to take the ‘what you know’ and actually to translate it into practice, into something the organisation can use. It makes all the difference.”

The three types of networking

The importance of business networking can certainly not be doubted – however, it’s important to recognise that there is more than one type of networking, and successful leaders need to know how to leverage each one. As outlined in a Harvard Business Review article by Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter, there are in fact three types of networks:


Operational networking is when you develop relationships with the right people within your organisation, with the purpose of doing your job better and more efficiently. The relationships tend to be focused internally, although they can be spread across different departments, with the goal of meeting the current operational demands of the organisation.


On the other side of the coin, personal networking is important as it grows your list of contacts outside of the immediate organisational sphere. As such, relationships tend to be focused on those external to the business, and can centre around interests and pursuits beyond the corporate world.

According to Ibarra and Hunter, such relationships are crucial as they play a role in fostering both personal and professional development.


Lastly, strategic networking is one of the most complex – and also one of the most important – forms of relationship building. This focuses on creating connections with high-value individuals both internal and external to the organisation, such as those who are future-oriented and likely to contribute to the positive growth and development of your company.

Ibarra and Hunter outline that when a leader believes he or she is a good networker, they are often only thinking in terms of their operational or personal ability. However, leaders need to learn to “employ networks for strategic purposes” in order to gain maximum value out of their relationships.

It can be a worthwhile exercise to rate yourself on these three types of networking and see if there are any areas for improvement. Assess your current network – are the relationships too focused on the operational and personal level, or is there an overarching strategic goal that governs them?

What makes a good network?

For all three types of network, it is obviously important to create meaningful, lasting relationships that contribute in a positive way to your development. So what characteristics make up a strong network?

The Center for Creative Leadership’s ‘A Leader’s Network How to Help Your Talent Invest in the Right Relationships at the Right Time‘ paper posits one view on the issue, listing three key qualities of a good network. According to the paper, the best networks are:

Open – networks should be open enough that not everyone in your circle knows each other.
Diverse – connections should “cross critical boundaries”, reaching across vertical, horizontal, geographic, demographic and other limits.
Deep – quality, meaningful relationships that can lead you to new information, ideas and resources are crucial.

By strengthening your network-building skills across the three types listed above, and ensuring each connection you make is open, deep and diverse, you can make sure your network is primed to contribute the best possible value for the development of yourself and your business.

Different leadership styles from around the world

Businesses are operating in an increasingly global environment, which requires careful consideration of cultural differences when marketing goods and services worldwide.

This is particularly true for Australian organisations hoping to take advantage of growing opportunities in Asian markets, with the country ideally placed to strengthen trade relationships on the continent.

Whether you are dealing with international partners or setting up an office in an overseas location, understanding typical leadership styles in that country can be extremely beneficial to bolstering smooth-running relationships.

So what are the main leadership styles exhibited worldwide? British linguist Richard D Lewis explored the nuances between a number of countries in his 1996 book ‘When Cultures Collide‘, which is now in its third edition.

Here is a summary of some of the common characteristics outlined in the book.


Australian leaders are thought to be fairly democratic, with Mr Lewis pointing to Swedish egalitarianism models as a close comparison.

However, Australian organisations are also guided by the more aggressive American way of doing business, which favours quick thinking and fast decision-making.

According to Mr Lewis, Australian executives must be considered ‘one of the mates’, but once they have achieved this status they often exert important influence.

Research by the Australian Institute of Management has previously found that the country’s leaders are supportive, preferring coaching and mentoring rather than focusing on individual mistakes.


Diplomatic, tactful and casual, British managers are often fair and willing to compromise.

Under the surface though, UK leaders have a pragmatic streak that ensures they can be resilient and ruthless, but in a subtler manner than is stereotypically seen in US counterparts.

Where British employees can falter is in international communications, with an adherence to tradition and inward-looking perspective that can prevent cross-cultural learning.


Japanese businesses are more likely to have a bottom-up approach to innovation and change, Mr Lewis claims.

Top executives may harness substantial power, but new ideas typically come from workers on the ground. These are then filtered up through middle management to senior executives and are put in place when they gain enough support.

This process involves the circulation of a document called a ringi-sho, which is annotated and amended by various departments as it makes its way up the leadership chain.


Like in Japan, Chinese leadership is often geared towards consensus decision-making, which Mr Lewis describes as the Confucian model. This means a leadership group is usually in charge of policy implementation.

However, unlike in truly democratic leadership styles, there is a respect for unequal relationships. Organisational structures are similar to families, with age and seniority being greatly revered.

A benevolent autocrat is considered the ideal boss, and subordinates expect to be given instructions.

The US

US leaders are often assertive, aggressive and goal orientated, which Mr Lewis says is a result of the country’s frontier beginnings shown since the 18th century.

“They are capable of teamwork and corporate spirit, but they value individual freedom above the welfare of the company, and their first interest is furthering their own career,” he stated.

Leadership positions are usually allocated based on merit and Americans are not shy about pursuing wealth as their main motivation.


Nepotism is a key feature of Indian leadership structures. Decision-making is often made between family members holding senior positions within the organisation.

Trade groups exert a significant influence in the country and strong inter-personal relationships can develop between these organisations.


German efficiency is commonly referred to when discussing businesses in the country – and while it may be a stereotype, there is truth to the notion.

Clear chains of command exist in each department, with information passing through the hierarchy in a top-down fashion. However, despite this autocratic approach, there is room for consensus in German leadership models.

Germans often gain the respect of subordinates by showing a willingness to work hard, obey the rules and play fair. Horizontal communication between department leaders is less common than in US and British firms.


France’s leadership models are among the most autocratic, although Mr Lewis says this may not be particularly evident at first glance.

CEOs often have skills across a wide range of areas, including marketing, production, accounting and personnel – shifting gears as and when required.

Due to this comprehensive coverage, management blunders are more accepted in French businesses, as leaders are responsible for a large number of decisions across many departments.


The Netherlands values merit-based appointments, so Dutch leaders can often point to many achievements and competencies.

While managers in the country are decisive, consensus is important and there are commonly a number of key individuals involved during new policy implementations.

Mr Lewis adds that ideas have free flow throughout Dutch organisations, suggesting bottom-up creativity is encouraged.