“Making a successful leadership transition requires a shift from the confines of a clearly defined operational network…It is a challenge to make the leap from a lifetime of functional contributions and hands-on control to the ambiguous process of building and working through networks. Leaders must accept that networking is one of the most important requirements of their new leadership roles and continue to allocate enough time and effort to see it pay off.”
Whereas an operational network is fairly narrowly focused, with the locus of contacts formed around specific objectives, a strategic network necessarily involves lateral and vertical ties to stakeholders inside and outside of the firm. As Ibarra and Hunter found in their research, strategic networking is the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another. Pushed to its logical limit, the basis of this difference is that effective leaders are highly dependent on others to get things done. The irony here is that the individuals in your network, who are the lifeline for building up the big picture, are also individuals who are likely to be outside of your immediate control. While this may seem obvious, it is often difficult to transition from a purely operational network to a strategic one, either due to simple time constraints (strategic networking takes time, often without immediate or obvious benefits) or because of negative personal attitudes toward strategic networking (for instance, “that’s too political and goes against my values”).