The first rule of management is that successful management is actually more about how you manage yourself rather than being about how you manage others (see “First rule of management” posted June 25, 2012).

The second rule of management is that the key to your own success is totally dependent on the success of your people (see “Second rule of management” posted September 24, 2012).

The third rule of management is that no man is an island. To borrow from Scott McNealy one of the founders of Sun Microsystems who said “the network is the computer”, the network is the successful manager.

Author: Derek Kaczmarczyk from Naperville, US; via Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0 license

These network linkages are critical to success and are not just to support the adage that “It’s not what you know, but who you know that is important”. In today’s business world every manager has to foster these linkages to every part of his ecosystem to support and enable the success of his area of responsibility.

When I moved to a multi-country regional role, I backfilled my own country management position with a successful national Sales Director. A large part of his success had been based on his close connection to his sales and pre-sales teams, and to me it seemed to be a reasonable assumption that as his responsibilities increased so would his understanding that his connections would have to expand outside of this sole focus. Not being one to leave anything to chance, I initiated a long discussion with him about the responsibilities that a CEO carried for his entire ecosystem. Despite nodding wisely, and his assurances that he understood all this and that I needn’t worry about his ability to take over from me, he never really managed to do it, and he continued to spend his entire time focussing on his sales people.

Despite some initial success, his business area started to suffer, and after some investigation I found out that he never actually met with our customers unless there was a specific deal in which he was needed to help close. This meant that not only did he not have any understanding of what was happening in our customer base, he also had little understanding of what was happening in the general market place, as large company CEOs are a rich source of market data. It also meant that the C-level executives in our major accounts started to see us as being less of a business partner who was interested in helping them be successful but more as an organisation that was only interested in how much money we could get out of them, and as a result they became less inclined to give us their business. This lack of attention was particularly true with our public sector customers, and when I questioned the MD about this he gave me a long story about how boring public sector people were to do business with. As the public sector represented about 50% of our business this revelation was particularly disturbing.

CEOs of large companies talk to each other and rely a lot on personal anecdotes and referrals from each other, and to be part of this network is critical for the success of any CEO.

As defined by best-selling author Bob Burg

“Networking is about cultivating mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships. The end result should be to develop a large and diverse group of people who will gladly and continually refer a lot of business to us, while we do the same for them. All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”

The situation on non-attention was no different in our ecosystem of business partners who had previously been very loyal to our company and had invested considerable amounts of money and resources in building consulting practices that supported our ability to take our products to market. As our country MD had shown little interest in their businesses, and we were now not close enough to sense and at least try to influence their business activities, their senior management teams had taken the decision to expand their practices to include competitive products. Whilst this expansionary move was ultimately unstoppable, a closer relationship to their senior executives could have held these moves at bay for at least a few more years, as we were managing to do in other countries.

Unfortunately I had no choice but to replace this particular MD.

I believe that no manager can succeed without fostering and growing all these external network connections covering customers and business partners, but also suppliers, distributers and service providers. For example, fostering strong relationships with the Headhunter/Search firms who specialise in your industry can result in your being at the top of the contact list when an outstanding candidate surfaces.

Author: liz west from Boxborough, MA; via Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0 license

The same is true internally in your own organisation.

A smart manager will ensure that s/he has strong links to every part of the organisation, and particularly with those departments that can have an impact on the speed and dexterity, and hence the success, of their own team, no matter the size. Strong relationships will result in your people being given priority over others when speed is essential, for example when needing support from the legal department in a contract negotiation or from HR when needing to expedite a geographic relocation.

It is also critical that you remember to include in your network all the admin, clerical and support people who can be an integral key to your success. PAs can make it as easy or as hard as they feel inclined to in granting you access to their execs, just as the people on reception can influence your visitors’ views of your company and of you. Treat all of them with the respect that all professionals deserve and warrant.

As business management guru Tom Peters said

“Your power is almost directly proportional to the thickness of your Rolodex, and the time you spend maintaining it. Put bluntly the most potent people I’ve known have been the best networkers — they know everybody from everywhere and have just been out to lunch with most of them.”

Author: Hannes Grobe; via Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 2.5 license



  1. Pfister Thomas says:

    Very True Les ! Excellent Blog !

  2. Misty says:

    Thank you for this insightful information!

  3. Tim Padz says:

    Thanks for the good ideas 😉 It helps lot in running a business.

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