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Networking up: The do’s and don’ts of befriending higher-ups

Whether you work for a large corporation or a small business, you probably feel at least a little intimidated by your company’s executive team. After all, they not only call the shots, but they essentially hold your job security and the future of your career in their hands.

As daunted as you may feel at the prospect of networking with your organization’s higher-ups, getting to know them could be one of the best things you do for your career.

“It is quite worthwhile to get to know senior leaders [at your company],” says John Millikin, clinical professor of management at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business and former vice president of human resources at Motorola. “From the leader’s standpoint, by getting to know you as more than a name on a roster, he or she can have a face and personality in mind when making decisions that might affect you and your job. You, conversely, begin to have a clearer understanding of who this leader is and how she or he thinks. This can be very helpful in better aligning your actions with the goals of the firm. The leader may also gain from a connection with you, because he or she is getting an unfiltered view from the ‘floor,’ which can be very helpful.”

So how do you form relationships with the upper management at your company? Consider the do’s and don’ts of networking up.

Do find a mentor: Having a mentor in a management position at your company is helpful, because he can introduce you to other executives with whom you may not have a chance to interact.  

“From my experience, working in a corporate position as a banker for many years, networking with higher-ups works,” says Alexandra Figueredo, motivation and success coach and author of “Sculpt Your Life From Sketch to Masterpiece.” “I was mentored by a senior officer, and she pushed me to meet periodically with every one of the senior executives at my company. I was scared to death at first. But within a few months, I was meeting with the top five executives of my company, including the CEO and [chief financial officer]. Eventually, I used their insight and guidance to get promoted within the company.”

Don’t be a brown-noser: Though networking up is a good career strategy, trying to get an “in” with management shouldn’t monopolize your workday. You don’t want to develop a reputation as the office politico — that won’t sit well with colleagues or executives.

“Building relationships and networking within an organization can be quite important in a career,” Millikin says. “But that doesn’t mean that you should spend all your time playing politics in the negative sense of the word. Good working relationships facilitate communication and understanding in an organization, enhancing efficiency. Carried to an extreme, of course, it can become counterproductive. Relationships need to be sincere and transparent. Nobody likes someone who is obviously ingratiating and always agreeing with the boss.”

Do create opportunities to network: If you don’t have a chance to interact with your CEO on a daily basis, look for ways to do so outside of work. “Employees can network with executives in their own companies by joining and/or heading up committees that are companywide that will have to report to upper management,” says Cheryl Palmer, owner of career-coaching firm Call to Career. “This will give employees visibility with the higher-ups as well as networking opportunities.”

Other places to “run into” executives? The company gym, office-sponsored happy hours and corporate charity events.

Don’t flaunt your connections: “It might make colleagues uncomfortable if you are chummy with the CEO or other senior people, so you want to make sure you’re not gloating about the relationship, or you’re not using it as an excuse to not pull your own weight,” says Carolina Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of career-coaching firm SixFigureStart.

Do prepare for meetings with executives: If you have the opportunity to meet with a company executive, make the most of it. “It’s important to think strategically about the meeting,” says Bobbie LaPorte, founder of leadership development firm RAL & Associates and former executive at GE and IBM. “In order to prepare, define your goal in meeting with them and assess what expertise, insight [and] connections you can potentially offer them — we all have something to offer. Bring an agenda or plan to the meeting.”

LaPorte also suggests researching the executive you’re meeting with through LinkedIn or company information, so you can find out who the person is, what she likes to do and what goals she has for the company.

Adds Ceniza-Levine, “Keep abreast of what’s happening in your company and industry, so you will have something to talk about when you do inevitably meet senior people.”

 By Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder Writer

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