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Photo from ThinkStockPeople who network for professional reasons have incredible guilt.

“In fact, it makes us feel like we’re breaking our morality,” said Phil Wilburn, a social network analysis expert for the Center for Creative Leadership’s Colorado Springs campus.

Wilburn was one of very few men who attended the Women Inspiring Leadership Development Summit last week at Westminster. He addressed the women attending the symposium with humor but made serious points as well.

A study from the University of Toronto listed guilt as a feeling coming out of professionals’ networking.

“In fact, in the study, people who were doing professional connecting had a greater tendency — It’s true — to use cleaning products afterward,” he said to laughter.

But on a serious note, “We feel guilty because we feel like we’re using somebody, and it really questions our sense of morality. If you feel like you have something to offer back to the relationship, you don’t feel dirty or guilty when you’re networking.”

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“An effective network is all about having relationships that help you be effective at work or career,” Wilburn said.


Wilburn listed the benefits of a successful network:

• People with an effective network hear information first and early;

• People who have an effective network tend to be in the top 20 percent high performers in their firm;

• Good networkers enjoy better career mobility, success and promotions;

• People with good networks are more influential in complex organizations; and

• For people who have good networks, their individual work is boosted by an average of 70 percent.

The most natural way to build relationships is also the “worst possible way to create a network,” Wilburn said.

Typical networks of friendships and professional colleagues are formed:

• Because of here and now. For example, two people are put on the same project team.

• Because they’re close. Relationships are built with people seen frequently because they work down the hall or their offices are next to each other.

• Because they attract like-minded people. “We tend to build relationships with people who are like us. Birds of a feather …” Wilburn said.

• And finally, “We suck at letting go of relationships,” Wilburn said.

“So, we build insular, closed, like-minded relationships that don’t help us with our career, and we’re afraid of letting go of them. This is the most natural way in which we build our relationships. So we have to bust out of this way and be more intentional about the way we build relationships,” Wilburn opined.

Three things 

Effective networks are open, diverse and deep.

“People with closed networks tend to not have the same career opportunities as those with open networks,” Wilburn said. “Your influence overall decreases” with closed networks.

Successful businesspersons have open networks that include a wide diversity of people, “To give us a different perspective on the world,” he said.


“We suck at letting go of relationships.”
– Phil Wilburn

[/pullquote]“If you do not have diverse contacts, you will not develop the skill of translating information,” he said. “You have to have deep relationships, essentially you have to have the right level of trust.”

Deep network relationships must also have reciprocity, trust, frequency in communication.

“Think about when trust only goes one way. Think: Do they have my best interests in mind?” he said. “If you build deep relationships, they never go away.”

Research has shown people value advice that comes from a business person’s dormant network over advice from a person’s active network.

Then, he advised, consider how the network is working to help the person with his or her current goals.

“If you don’t like the way your network is starting to look, guess what? You can change it. Start by being intentional about how you’re spending your time and energy,” Wilburn said.

Network traps

There is no difference between men’s and women’s networks. What is different is the value men and women get out of their network. Men get more value out of the same network than women do.

The reason is that women fall into network traps, he said. They are the buffer effect and the mentoring myth.

The buffer effect relates to the perception of a woman’s warmth. Wilburn cited an example whereby a woman high performer was successful and had a highly open and diverse network. After asking for feedback, she was told she came off too cold to people.

“She does not let people in. We see this over and over and over with women entrepreneurs, with women executives. They don’t let people in,” Wilburn said. “It relates to this big perception that women have to be both competent and warm in order to get legitimacy in organizations. It’s not enough to just be competent. Women who have a good network are considered to be competent, but you’re perceived as being less warm. So they have to work twice as hard to be perceived as competent and warm.

“This is one of the biggest traps we find of female executives in their network.”

Regarding the mentoring myth, research has shown that 76 percent of men are mentored, and 83 percent of women are mentored.

However, more men receive promotions as a result of mentoring, 72 percent for men and 66 percent for women.

“More women are being mentored, but more men are being rewarded. What is going on here?”

If no one advocates for the woman professional, giving access to the top, giving challenging and rewarding assignments, the woman will likely be bypassed for a promotion.

What they need are sponsors, top executives who will give access to those challenging assignments, someone “fighting for you in your career,” he said. “They’re giving you meaty assignments, putting you in risky situations where you have to succeed or fail.”

Women are over-mentored but under-sponsored, he said.