Is Your Personal Network a Smart Network?

Susan Hall

In my recent post on mentoring, I mentioned Priscilla Guthrie, former CIO at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the people she calls her personal board of directors, her "go-to people" for her career. She typically chose a senior-level leader from her current organization, a peer in her field, a subject-matter expert and someone from her personal life.


A piece at Harvard Business Review, "Managing Yourself: A Smarter Way to Network" discusses how to effectively build your personal network. And, no, it's not all about cozying up to people in power. According to the article by Rob Cross, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, and Robert Thomas, executive director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance:

The executives who consistently rank in the top 20% of their companies in both performance and well-being have diverse but select networks ... - made up of high-quality relationships with people who come from several different spheres and from up and down the corporate hierarchy.

It says high performers have these strong ties:

  1. People who offer them new information or expertise, including internal or external clients, who increase their market awareness; peers in other functions, divisions, or geographies, who share best practices; and contacts in other industries, who inspire innovation;
  2. Formally powerful people, who provide mentoring, sense-making, political support, and resources; and informally powerful people, who offer influence, help coordinating projects, and support among the rank and file; and
  3. People who give them developmental feedback, challenge their decisions, and push them to be better. At an early career stage, an employee might get this from a boss or customers; later, it tends to come from coaches, trusted colleagues, or a spouse.

The article starts off with an example of a tech company exec "Deb," whose network looks like this:

  • Her boss, the CEO, a mentor who "always has her back."
  • Steve, the head of a complementary business, with whom she has monthly brainstorming lunches and occasional gripe sessions.
  • Tom, a protege to whom she has delegated responsibility for a large portion of her division.
  • Her counterparts in three strategic partnerships, who inspire her with new ideas.
  • Sheila, a former colleague, now in a different industry, who gives her candid feedback.
  • Her husband, Bob, an executive at a philanthropic organization.
  • Fellow volunteers in a program for at-risk high school students.
  • Members of her tennis group and book club.


The authors advise a four-part strategy for developing a smart network:

  • Analyze-Who's in your network now? What benefits do you gain from these interactions? Do they extend your abilities or keep you stuck?
  • De-layer-This requires some hard decisions about relationships to back away from. First on the list are people who sap your energy.
  • Diversify-Add in new people. The article offers this exercise: Write down three specific business results you hope to achieve over the next year, then list the people who could help you with them, thanks to their expertise, control over resources, or ability to provide political support.
  • Capitalize-Make sure you're taking advantage of your network fully.


You'll find the article, though lengthy, rich with examples, so it's well worth your time to gain that insight.

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