By Justin Zastrow, CEO of Smart Armor.

It's my humble opinion that in order to be a successful CEO or leader, you must first learn and master the art of networking. But understand that networking and "showing up" is only half the battle. In addition to networking, you need to learn how to meaningfully and authentically connect with people. Otherwise, your networking efforts will be wasted.

I know that it can be intimidating and sometimes seem impossible, but it's an absolute must-have skill for growing a business. I happen to enjoy the networking part of my job. It allows me to meet new people, gain important partnerships as well as grow awareness for my business. If you want to be a strong leader you have to put your fears behind you and put yourself out there. Read on for some of my best networking tips.

Build rapport.

This is the golden rule for any and all types of communication. Do you not like talking about yourself? Great! Make the conversation about them. Ask questions in order to learn who they are and what they do. Use that to build rapport. People like to feel like they are important (and they are). Leaving them with that feeling will leave you with a new relationship. Building rapport also means creating memories or remembering the person. Don't talk with someone and forget everything they said. There is nothing worse than having to admit you weren't paying attention. Remembering small details will go a long way when it comes to creating lasting relationships.

Don't do it alone.

Do you have friends or previously-made connections who are great networkers? Bring them with you and follow their lead. There is a lot to be learned by doing. Having someone with you who almost forces you to get out there will do just that. This tactic also helps with those of you who may have some anxiety when it comes to networking or being social. It's not easy putting yourself out there, so having a support system or lifeline can do wonders for your confidence -- which also will do wonders for your networking skills.

Pick the right event.

There are so many opportunities and ways to get your name out there. Some of my favorites are conferences and shows related to my industry. They are more approachable as everyone there is in attendance for the same reason and it's easier to start a conversation. Start with local startup events. They are usually shorter in duration and are more organized, which makes things much easier and less stressful. My awesome home state, Arizona, has a community rooted in startup culture and there are events every week.

Networking and making connections is perhaps one of the most difficult things to master when it comes to being a good leader. But starting small, not doing it alone and practicing will get you to where you want to be.

Justin Zastrow is CEO of Smart Armor, a company that links application-driven, wireless-locking technology to secure your belongings and make life more simplistic.

Published on: Dec 21, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.