I’ve never liked the term “networking.” It’s what computers and machines do. It seems manipulative, impersonal, and utilitarian. When leadership gurus urge us to network, it evokes images of business-card-swapping or data collection so we can leverage these relationships later. It all sounds rather cold to me.

act-like-a-leaderBut I recently read Herminia Ibarra’s Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (2015).

She has changed my mind.

Networking means making connections with people outside our usual circles. For moms, this might involve jumping into a mothers’ group. For church leaders, this likely requires reaching out to other pastors in other places and listening to them. For community or organizational leaders, this calls us to connect with people in the same industry but not necessarily the same geography.

Why do this?

On the positive side, networking helps in the following ways.

  1. Networking gives us fresh voices to listen to, and therefore fresh perspectives on our own circumstances.
  2. Networking reflects thoughtful stewardship of our leadership, stewarding relationships for the good of our family, organizations, or communities.
  3. Networking has potential to enlarge our vision, our capacity, and our resourcing.
  4. Networking helps us avoid the trap of “birds of a feather.” When our contacts are too homogenous (people who are just like us and think just like us), it gets harder and harder to think creatively.
  5. Networking encourages a future orientation. If our network is all about people in our past, then we may experience “lag” as we try to step into the future.
  6. Networking minimizes the “echo chamber.” If everyone we know knows each other, then eventually we all simply repeat the same old advice, solutions, and ideas. It just echos around.

Networking, understood from these perspectives, has dramatic potential for our leadership…and those we lead. It turns out that networking means listening, learning, expanding, and innovating, whether that’s as parents, pastors, or CEOs.

Perhaps my initial fears were fueled more by poor examples or false assumptions. If we fail to network with others outside our circles, we may be simply embracing the path of least resistance…and limited leadership.

David Timms serves as Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University