Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Women in Leadership: Networks


 As you make the transition from scientist to manager, you may realize that the technical and mathematical skills that got you where you are won’t help as much as you advance. Although (when mixed with a bit of intuition and common sense) they may be sufficient at lower levels, like department chair, group lead, or principal investigator, these abilities alone will not be enough as you move to higher levels. Even though your undergrad and graduate curricula were packed full of requirements, you may reach a point when you lament that you never took a management course. Your success will depend less and less on the skills that made you a successful scientist and more and more on your human competencies. In a community that is dominated by introverts, this is a particularly troubling realization, and an individual with even mild extroverted tendencies has a natural advantage. There is a joke I heard while I was working in the Astronomy Division at NSF. Question: How do you tell if someone is an extrovert? Answer: When they pass you in the hall, they look at your shoes. It is sort of funny only because it is so true. I worked on the Math and Physical Sciences floor – the directorate that includes Math, Physics, Chemistry, Materials, and Astronomy. I can’t tell you the number of times I passed someone in the hall, and they looked down. I found I had to really focus on keeping eye contact and saying something simple like, “Good morning.” So imagine how an individual in this community of introverts feels when they learn that their career advancement now depends on the one thing they were never good at (and never had to be) - their ability to develop effective working relationships with key individuals.


If you want to succeed at management and continue to advance, you need to learn how to build and develop networks. Networks can be work related, social, or a mixture of both. In their Harvard Business Review blog post, The Three Networks You Need, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback discuss the importance of the different types of networks you will need to succeed:

• Developmental – Provide advice, discuss professional options
• Operational – Help you get your day-to-day work done
• Strategic – Prepare for and succeed in that future

“Your developmental network is the collection of individuals whom you trust and to whom you can turn for a sympathetic ear, advice (depending on their experience), and a place to discuss and explore professional options. One way or another, these are people who help you grow as a manager and leader.

You create both operational and developmental networks naturally. The people in your operational network are those you must work with every day. And most of us naturally turn to knowledgeable friends and acquaintances for personal help with professional dilemmas. You may not have thought about these two collections as networks, but they are. In our experience, most managers spend too little time and care on building and maintaining them. They’re mostly forged by immediate need and happenstance, and they often lack key people. But most managers create them, if only in rudimentary form.

The third network you need — your strategic network — is the one many managers don’t create at all because it doesn’t happen in the everyday course of work and life. A strategic network is about tomorrow. It comprises those who can help you do two critical tasks: first, define what the future will bring and second, prepare for and succeed in that future. There will be some overlap between this network and your operational network, but the differences are likely to be significant, too.”

Another valuable network is your Mentoring Network, which is comprised of people who provide information, ideas, or expertise; increase your own sense of purpose and worth; lend personal support; are formally and informally powerful; and offer mentoring and political support. The individuals in this network can provide you with feedback on three critical aspects of career success that can lead to executive level promotions:

• Leadership skills;
• Ability to inspire others, and
• Business, strategic, and financial acumen.


In her 2013 TED Talk, “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get,” Susan Colantuono asks the questions, “why are so many women mired in middle management, and what needs to be done to take them to the top?” Susan illustrates her point with an example of a woman, who she calls Tonya, who had worked hard to improve her confidence and assertiveness and develop a great brand. Tonya got great performance evaluations and her teams loved working with her. She had taken extensive management training and was working with a terrific mentor. And yet, she had been passed over twice for advancement opportunities, even when her manager knew that she was committed to moving up. Susan goes on to note that Tonya had done great things, but they were all included in the first two categories above. None of them were in the third category, the “missing 33 percent,” business, strategic, and financial acumen (see figure). This crucial component seems to be missing from the advice women get on how to climb the management ladder. Insight on how this is related to the gender gap comes from an executive mentor with two protégés: a man and a woman. He said, "I helped the woman build confidence, I helped the man learn the business, and I didn't realize that I was treating them any differently." (Personal note: I never understood the importance of this third component until I listened to Susan’s talk. Also, for more on confidence, please see an earlier blog in this series, Women in Leadership: It’s Not Just About Confidence.)

In her Harvard Business School note, Building Effective One-on-One Work Relationships, Linda Hill addresses how to build effective one-on-one work relationships. She spells out the importance of analyzing your network and understanding on whom you are dependent. She also provides some criteria for assessing the quality of your relationships.

She points out that your reasoning with regard to interpersonal matters should be as analytical, strategic, and as data-driven as your science. Successful managers must know how to build relationships with a complex network of interdependent people. Although it is easier to develop relationships with those who share the same background, values, interest, or working style, you will need to step out of this comfort zone to incorporate a network of individuals who may have very different views than your own. Back away from redundant energy-draining connections and fill the holes in your network with those who can provide high-quality, reciprocal relationships. The best kind of connections are energy-positive, trustworthy individuals who see opportunities even in challenging situations. The key is having a network that is select but diverse. The most effective networks typically range in size from 12 to 18 people.

The degree of these relationships can be measured based on mutual expectations about performance, goals, and priorities as well as the trust that develops in a relationship. An effective relationship is one where trust and influence grow over time and become more concrete, tested, and grounded. Nurture these relationships and give them time to develop. Conflicts may arise even when you have good intentions. You need to use your basic analytical and creative skills to identify such conflicts and resolve them.

This post is based on a session of the Women in Business – Transitioning to Leadership workshop held at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and facilitated by Dr. Mabel Miguel, Professor of Organizational Behavior.


Please check out these other posts in the Women in Leadership series: