It’s taken me a while to realise this (one of my blind spots, no doubt) but my networking strategies have been naïve on occasions. As I’ve got older and (supposedly wiser) I now know that my fundamental belief that ‘networking is about giving’ doesn’t work when mixing with certain types of people – those with the characteristics of the fox and the donkey! Allow me to explain.
There is a four animal model, developed back in the 1980s by Simon Baddeley and Kim James to primarily explain the different political approaches adopted by managers inside organisations. But this model also provides a vivid means of differentiating between the values that underpin the different types behaviour of fellow networkers.
These types are different in two interesting dimensions: their extent of political savvy and their extent of commitment to the greater good rather than self interest. I’ll briefing go through the four types.
Sheep (low political savvy- low self interest)
An implied innocence underlies the sheep approach. Other words that spring to mind might be loyal, naïve and easily led. They are the types who say (providing they recognise what is happening in the first place), ‘I have no time for politics’ or, ‘I don’t want to play any games.’ They believe that processes and procedures should always be followed and that only the proper and formal channels exist. They cling to the notion that the best idea or person will always win through fairly. They always respect levels of authority. Many of us start our working life with this viewpoint and some will even maintain it for an entire career.
In summary these types are of limited value to networkers (‘Baa’ I hear you bleat!). They’re probably only attending because they’ve been asked to. They offer little risk.
Donkey (low political savvy – high personal interest)
Words such as stubborn, unprincipled and inept might sum up the donkey character, but it goes deeper than this. We have all encountered the colleague who thinks he’s on the inside track, is fond of mentioning connections to senior people and is convinced he plays a smart game. Sadly, this is often an illusion, and as a result donkeys can get used or taken advantage of by other, more ruthless, individuals. They also deny themselves the support and collaboration of team members when it comes to doing the job they are really paid for. This is a bitter pill to swallow for those who pride themselves on thinking they have worked out how to get ahead of others in pursuit of their personal goals.
In networking terms, these types are of limited value to networkers – though potentially quite entertaining! (‘Ee-aw’ I hear you say!). They offer potential risks though because they are ‘on the take’.
Owl (high political savvy – low self-interest)
Wise, highly observant and with excellent interpersonal skills, the owls are well placed to succeed. Success for them means positive outcomes for both themselves and the organisation that employs them. They use their highly developed networking and communication skills to generate support and build alliances. The Owl is loyal, acts with integrity and has the capacity for friendship, shares information and is open and co-operative. They can take the difficult decisions, but work hard to ensure that the outcomes are not counter-productive. They are overt and demonstrate this by listening and disclosing appropriately. They are visible and approachable, yet powerful and focused.
These characters are the equivalent of networking nuggets. Try to find reasons to follow up afterwards.
Fox (high political savvy – high self-interest)
The chances are we all know somebody like this. Cunning, sly and clever, foxes know their way around. They are really quite adept at negotiating the corridors of power, getting support and being tuned in to the bigger picture. They are ace networkers – always seeming to be able to sniff out others with power and influence. They recognise and take advantage of the weaknesses of others in order to get ahead and further their cause. Unfortunately, it is ‘their cause’ that they invariably put first in their decisions and strategies. The objectives of others tend to be neglected, even ignored when it suits.
In recent years, several major corporate failures may even have been precipitated by extreme fox like behaviour among senior managers.
These characters are high value and high risk to networkers. They’ll accept your offers for information and connections and potentially fleece you (sorry sheep!). If you’re naturally a networking giver, look for signals that there are early signs of reciprocation before being taken advantage of.
So, when out networking, my advice is to continue to see networking as about giving – giving time, attention, interest, sharing your network etc. But be alert to the fact that these offers may be being wasted on some creatures who’ll be offering little back.
Cynical? Maybe. But also pragmatic and realistic.