#327 Leadership insight: The importance of your professional network
28 July 2021
In a highly specialised field such as medicine, the process of building a diverse professional network to support leadership development and career management often doesn’t receive much attention. Networks are often narrow, restricted to a workplace(s), or to a chosen specialty field and typically, they are also often heavily weighted in medicine, with limited access to other industry sectors or professional fields.
As careers grow, however, it is important to actively develop a robust and flexible professional network with a diverse range of connections you can engage with for advice, information and referrals, both within and outside of medicine. The social capital this network provides helps leadership development, career advancement and the fulfillment and meaning that comes with strong professional relationships based on a common sense of purpose and shared expertise and aspiration.
In our recent Emerging Leaders Program, we asked participants to draw a map of their current professional networks. This challenged many - some had limited networks others more diverse – however, most concluded that there was significant work to be done in building their professional network and it was an area they had overlooked or undervalued.
A network map is a picture which notes the significant relationships you have to individuals, teams, and departments in a variety of organisations that you either currently belong to, engage with and feel are significant in shaping both who you are and how you work currently and into the future as your career develops.
How is building a diverse professional network important for leadership and career development?
- Keeps you engaged and supported:
- Strong professional relationships and networks are important to health and wellbeing at work. Strong relationships make us want to come to work and are a major predictor of engagement and wellbeing. Trusted colleagues and professional contacts provide us with someone to talk to, to lean on, to ask for help and to work through difficult decisions and events.
- Provides objectivity and a difference of perspective:
- To support solid decision making, assist in building your knowledge and support you in understanding your blind spots or default position - particularly if they come from different organisations, specialty fields or from a totally different industry sector.
- Having regular professional conversations with diverse others strengthens our leadership communication literacy and skills.
- Strong relationships with influential and expert colleagues and contacts provide avenues for mentorship and sponsorship:
- They are the people who hold you in mind when opportunities and new roles come up.
- They are there to support job applications and interview preparation.
- They can refer you and support you to build connections by introducing you to new people in the areas and networks that interest and inspire you.
- It builds your leadership pipeline and future networks:
- Having access to a diverse peer group of doctors/contacts that you trust who are more senior to you, at your level and junior to you can offer support through listening to new ideas and giving feedback.
- They will also form the basis of your network moving forward – they are the potential leaders / decision makers of the future and will support you to grow and develop. They will act as your leadership pipeline, supporting you to lead or in taking over the reins when you move on or retire.
As we observed in the emerging leaders during our program, the professional network map provided some key insights and ‘ah-ha’ or ‘lightbulb’ moments for many – spotlighting those key people who they could talk to about advice and career aspirations, or ask to attend a meeting or talk. These are contacts who could be trusted confidants on difficult experiences and assist with practising some of the skills learnt in broaching difficult conversations and resolving conflict.
There are many different types of relationships and connections we need in our work life. Start by mapping out what yours looks like, how you can use your network fully and where you might want to invest in building stronger connections.
Dr Anna Clark PhD
Leadership consultant & coach
AMA Victoria's Leadership & Professional Coaching team is here to support members reach their professional potential and build their leadership capability. Visit the leadership coaching resources section here to find out more.
Professional relationships and networks
- How leaders create and use networks – HBR
- How to maintain your professional network over the years – HBR
- The importance of positive relationships in the workplace – Positive Psychology
- Building good work relationships - MindTools