As critical as networking is, it's still a challenge for many people. For example, most

of us as are involved with social media platforms like LinkedIn, but are your

LinkedIn contacts the right contacts you need to have to attain that next career goal?

The top 20% of performers at companies excel at developing networks, not just to

find a new job but to connect them to resources inside and outside their firm, help

them master best practices, solve problems, connect to people of more influences to

get more done, and acquire better raises, among other accolades.

I recently met two networking experts who have creative tools to make networking

easy and effective. The first was Tom Gaunt, CEO and co-founder of NQuotient, who

was on several executive boards. The second is Marilyn Nagel, Co-Founder and Chief

Mission Officer at NQuotient, formerly the Chief Diversity Officer at Cisco, which she

left to run a woman's organization called Watermark. The question they both asked

about growing networking skills was this: How do you sustain learning and make

behavioral change stick?

That answer is unique for everyone, and especially for women. It's important to

recognize that there are unique elements for women when it comes to networking

that can give them an advantage - like, generally speaking, an innate ability to build

and nurture a relationship, prioritize relationships, and offer support.

As a woman looking to grow her networking skills, try these three strategies that

Nagel and Gaunt recommend:

Check your attitude. Gaunt and Nagel say that your attitude toward networking is

either an inhibitor or an impetus for success. Put simply: If you don't network well,

it's an inhibitor for you when it comes to reaching long-term career goals. But if you

do network well, it can lead to success.

Redefine how you network. If the idea of going to a room full of strangers is too

daunting, flip the script. Networking can be a range of activities: Meeting people

one-on- one for planned and meaningful conversations, having a regular conference

call with a trusted mentor, sponsor or peer, attending industry events, or even

connecting online via email, social media or professional chat groups. You can even

start conversations at work, on the train, or in a meeting. See that all the work you

do with people at every level of leadership is an opportunity to build a network.

Make sure your circle is diverse. Networking can be self-limiting if you're

networking with only women or only men. Embracing differences in genders or

race, instead of using them as a way to rationalize differences, opens us up to a

broader, more diverse thought process that is often more consistent with the

marketplace on both a national and international level.

Ultimately, the goal for an ideal networking strategy first and foremost is to remove

barriers to connect.

In that spirit, let's return to our LinkedIn example. LinkedIn is an effective tool, but

it can also a noisy environment. For example, if you have a 1,000 connections, but

out of that group there aren't many you couldn't call immediately if there was a

problem, then it's time to evaluate and take on an active role to develop as a

network manager. As a network manager, ask yourself these questions before you

reach out: What are my goals for networking? Who can help me meet these goals?

How does networking fit into my life? Set reminders of what to say to people and

when to reach out.

The message for women leaders is to find your confidence in your networking, and

be sure you are actually committed to connecting with others and building your

reputation.

If you'd like additional support growing and nurturing an effective network, check

out NQuotient. You can take a free self-assessment online and learn more about

where to focus your networking efforts to be more effective. You can find it here.

Published on: Sep 27, 2016