Years ago, my five sisters and I visited our brother in his high-rise executive office with the mahogany wood desk, the leather chair, and a view of the city. He was in a president role at a major financial institution. As we walked in, five of us ran immediately to the window to see the city, but my little sister instead noticed a strikingly clean desk with a few sheets of paper on it. She asked my brother, “Why don’t you have any work on your desk?” To which he replied, “By the time it gets to me, the work has already been done.” To be clear, my brother wasn’t just enjoying that stunning view all day. At his level, he was being paid for his strategic thinking and decision-making, and for setting priorities and direction.
Why the Best Leaders Tell Stories
There was a semicircle of some of the world’s highest profile CEOs surrounding him, and you could hear a pin drop. Mark had come today to share his story with his peer group in this CEO network – his story of failure.
“Last month, I was fired from my position as CEO after only 18 months on the job. When the Chairman of the Board was suddenly standing in the doorway of my office and asking, ‘Can we talk?’, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good conversation. He said, ‘Mark, you are a great guy, and we know you have been working hard, but we haven’t seen any marked improvements on any of the initiatives you started. We need a different CEO to lead this team.’ My lesson in this was that if I spread myself too thin, I can’t impact anything. I should have focused on my top 3 priorities and spent the majority of my time making those happen.”
Jan aspired to be the COO. It wasn’t something she had planned on early in her career, but when she got to mid-management, she was put in charge of a major initiative to help fix an operationally deficient business unit. She found she was good at identifying quick wins and quickly making a difference. She began to be recognized for her work and was given more of the same. Her mentor told her she should think about the COO role in her future. She felt honored that he thought of her that way, and the recognition invigorated her to strongly consider that path. Pretty soon, the vision crystallized in her mind, and she began to articulate that, one day, she wanted to be the COO.
This sounds like the beginning of a story with a happy ending. Jan capitalized on recognition, took in the counsel of a mentor, and began to vocalize her aspirations. But there was one thing she didn’t know until it was too late. Jan had the wrong goal. When she became COO, she immediately knew she was in the wrong job. It was not what she anticipated it to be.
You are a top performer and have been for your whole career. Your manager knows it and is a great mentor and coach. But what if your manager leaves the company? How well are you known throughout the rest of the organization?
You may be doing very well with your own work group, perhaps even across your business unit. But what about beyond your day-to-day routines and meetings. How many relationships do you have across the enterprise in other units? In other geographies? In different functions?
If the scouting report on you is “she is a top performer, she always gets things done,” that’s good! But it’s not good enough. What is it about you that is valuable to others?
Why should I network? I hardly have enough time to do my job as it is.
What comes to mind when I say the word “network”?
Responses I have received run the gamut from “I know I need to build a network, but I don’t have time” to “I hate walking into a room of people I don’t know and trying to generate superficial conversations.” In many cases, the adjectives used are self-serving, inauthentic, uncomfortable, and downright overwhelming. But that’s not what I mean when I say “network”.
Network is not a verb. Network is a NOUN.