“You can’t think, how can I do this, how can I solve it? You have to ask, Who do I know who can do this? Where is the expertise? Who else can I bring in because they have the skill or the time or the resources? Who wants the opportunity or needs the experience?”
Another critical insight that Cross and Garau’s recent research project revealed is that high performers’ ability to successfully execute a project or plan directly relies on their informal networks.
Often, we hold the belief that execution is all about having the right plan, strategy, and talent to put a project into motion. Surprisingly, though, the research suggests that it’s not that simple – whether a leader fully leverages his/her network can determine whether the project is successfully executed.
Let me give you an example to illustrate the idea here. Picture a highly connected leader in an organization, who regularly keeps up with her connections outside of her own company, and blocks time each week for network development. In other words, this is someone who regularly grabs lunch with a number of different people in a variety of roles in different companies, and often sends industry articles or blogs that she’s read to those in her network who would find it valuable.
When her company wants to expand, taking over smaller organizations or forming partnerships with others, this leader is put in charge of managing the integration. With a solid network as a foundation, and relationships that have already been established with members of other organizations, she can rely on those connections to help her, first, understand which companies would be most compatible with hers, and two, how she can best bring two different organizations together.
But this is just one of the thousands of ways that having a strong network can benefit high performing leaders in organizations.
Cross and his colleague’s research also identified two main ways that these high performers use their network within their organizations to help them successfully execute their projects.
First, by identifying, engaging, aligning with, and investing their efforts in key opinion influencers in their organizations, high performing leaders are able to bring others on-board with their projects with more success and less effort. They’re also able to gain access to information, expertise, and support more easily, and experience less resistance in their organization. This way, they can drive their influence without using their authority.
Second, they understand that the quality of the collaborations within and outside of their teams are the key to their projects’ success. So, they are aware of and focused on the collaborative patterns in their organization. They intentionally bridge silos, ensure that team members are aware of each others’ unique expertise and strengths, and connect newcomers or team members who are geographically distant with the rest of the team in order to avoid isolation or underutilization.
Leaders that intentionally use these strategies end up being able to achieve successes far beyond what they’re capable of achieving by themselves. They’re also are able to avoid failures and mistakes that could permanently damage their reputation, ensuring that their companies can continue to be confident in their ability to successfully execute projects.
Ultimately, it’s clear that it’s not just about having a wide network that determines whether someone can succeed in an organization – it’s whether a leader is intentional and intelligent about how they draw on and involve their network when executing a project.
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