Career Compass Columns are reprinted with the permission of Dr. Frank Benest
In this Career Compass, I address how to build a network of advisors who can help support your career advancement goals:
Everyone is correct - you do indeed need a good network of advisors to help you on a
number of fronts. Members of a network can:
I'm a mid-career professional and everyone tells me
that I need a good network to support my career advancement. However, I know
senior managers are very busy and I am therefore reluctant to burden them with
another obligation. I also do not know how I feel about developing relationships
and then asking others to help me. It feels a bit manipulative. In any case,
how do I create this network?
A network should include a diversity of people who can assist you with different kinds
of challenges and issues. One advisor may be adept at coaching you when you face a
difficult personal issue. Another advisor may be better at connecting you to others
who have information or specialized expertise. Therefore, your network should encompass
not just senior managers and other professionals inside your organization but also
professionals outside your organization. They can be in your same discipline - finance,
public works, community services - or better yet from several disciplines, including
general management. Your network need not only consist of senior people but also peers
in local government and non-local government colleagues from the business, nonprofit,
or academic worlds.
Suggest how you may handle problematic situations at work.
Alert you to new job opportunities inside and outside your organization.
Serve as connectors to others who may be able to provide advice or resources.
Advise you on how to enhance your skills, gain new experiences, and position yourself for advancement.
Serve as a sponsor in helping you secure an appointment to an interdepartmental team or a professional committee or access some other opportunity such as a training program.
Provide information, data, knowledge, and expertise.
Serve as a sounding board for advice.
Let's deal with a widely-held misconception. Asking someone to coach you or help you in
some fashion is not a burden. Coaches love to coach. People love to give advice or share
their knowledge and expertise. (Why do you think I write this column?) You are doing them
a favor by asking for assistance. In addition, once a relationship is formed, you will be
helping them as well.
So, what are some approaches for developing a "dream team" of advisors? Here are my 11 tips:
1. Be on the look-out for advisors
You should consciously search out and identify colleagues and senior people
who can provide support in different ways. When you meet someone or get to
know another colleague, ask yourself: "Would this person be a good advisor?"
2. Fill in the gaps in your network
If your dream team does not include someone with good connections in your state
association or other professional organization, you need to attend some conferences
or professional meetings, check out who is presenting or leading a committee, and
then approach those professional leaders and offer your assistance to the committee
or some other professional activity. Make sure you follow up with an e-mail or
3. Use dream team members to suggest other advisors
One advisor can connect you with another potential advisor and offer an
introduction. Many people love to serve as connectors.
4. Seek coaches through your professional organization
Some professional organizations like ICMA and my own state association, Cal-ICMA,
offer the services of senior managers as coaches. If you participate in ICMA's
Emerging Leaders Development Program, you get a "legacy coach." The Cal-ICMA
Coaching Program offers free one-on-one coaching matchups through its online
"Coaches Gallery" which profiles city/county managers, department heads, and
other senior managers (go to www.cal-icma.org and click on "Coaches Gallery"
on the right-hand side of the home page). Anyone can use this one-on-one coaching
service - just go to the "Coaches Gallery," select a coach of your liking, and
then make contact to get advice. It's easy.
5. Be ready to network
You should arrive at a professional or regional meeting with your business
cards. Develop and practice a concise "elevator speech" of who you are, what
you do, and what interests you. When you meet someone, have some questions
prepared in advance to ask about the other person. People love to talk about
themselves, their interests, and opinions.
6. Listen intently and be positive
When you talk to someone, look the person in the eye, smile, and listen intently.
Don't look over the person's shoulder, scouting out other people to meet. Be in
the present moment. And, in these stressful and often demoralizing times, be
positive, upbeat, and forward-looking.
7. Don't just introduce yourself
Introducing yourself to a colleague, having a brief conversation, and exchanging
business cards are necessary first steps, but don't stop there. The question is
how to create an ongoing relationship. Follow-up your initial encounter by providing
some information of potential interest or contacting the person and asking for advice
or scheduling an informational interview.
8. Offer assistance and help to members of your network
To solidify relationships and to enjoy the give-and-take nature of networks, you
need to serve as a resource to others. Don't wait to be asked. Send an article or
a job announcement or some recent survey results to appropriate members of your
network. They will then be more open to offering assistance to you when you need it.
9. Maintain relationships even when you don't need help
You need to sustain the social connection even when you are not looking for assistance.
Call or e-mail a colleague to simply catch-up or schedule a coffee or make a point of
touching base with a colleague at a conference.
10. Say thank you
Always, always express your appreciation. At least send an e-mail. Even better, a
personal note will make an impression especially in this electronic age. Expressing
your gratitude will help cement and further solidify your relationships.
11. Do it because it is fun!
Certainly, a dream team of advisors provides a lot of extrinsic value. However, you
should consider extending your professional and social network because it is fun and
intrinsically enjoyable. It is enjoyable to know colleagues at a professional meeting,
to help others, to exchange information and perspectives, to tell war stories, to be
connected to a valuable profession.
Now is the time to begin drafting members of your dream team. A team of advisors is
not created overnight - it takes a while if you are consciously and incrementally
building a team.
Don't wait! Start now. It's fun.
Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA's senior advisor for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto, California.