Potent Networks vs. Echo Chambers
By: Aradhna Malhotra Dhanda
What stories there are in the diversity of our networks! We are all connected. Each of us has a sphere of influence and yet very rarely do we pause to comprehend the magnitude of what this means to our lives and the lives of those we touch, or how it all came about.
My story began in India where I was raised during a time when it was expected that women would be subservient. When I moved to the USA in my early twenties as a young bride, I never imagined that I would take ownership of my own destiny, let alone be chosen to serve as the leader of a prestigious organization devoted to identifying, connecting and cultivating leadership.
While I felt a profound sense of powerlessness as a woman early in my life, a dramatic change was about to occur almost when I had just about given up. Let me pause to say that while I may not have had the faith in myself, I was self aware enough to know that I truly enjoyed meeting new people regardless of the reason. I also knew that I cared for people regardless of where they came from and why they came into my life or I entered theirs. I believe this made me very comfortable at reaching out and connecting with people despite all my self doubt. However, the cathartic moment came when I discovered a female network that taught me women could be strong and independent while also being good moms, wives and daughters. As my mind opened to this new way of thinking, my evolution as a woman, as a leader, happened faster than I would have expected. Many opportunities opened up in a very short period of time, allowing me to become involved in civic life and make a difference … and eventually to become the leader, personally and professionally, that was inside me waiting to be born. I have my network of women and some men to thank for this.
In a recent HBR article, authors Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap identified what they call “potent networks.” These are networks that can help you build your career, but even more importantly, they help you deliver impact in myriad ways, spreading your ideas and expanding your reach. These potent networks don’t just happen by accident – you must seek them out and work at them through high-stakes, shared activities that connect you to diverse others. Conversely, by simply defaulting to those in our normal circles, networks can become relatively small, insular – an echo chamber. It is our diversity that makes us stronger, including our spheres of influence. Stepping outside of the silos allows us to welcome new connections, expand the topics of what we are conversant about and build relationships that involve active listening as well as sharing of our own ideas. These are the ways we can build potent networks for our lives, our communities and for our work.
In another piece of research (also covered by HBR), Boris Groysberg studied successful women and found that strong performers in one firm don’t always shine; however, the propensity to do so is MUCH higher if these executives are female. His research on the catalysts for this pointed to the fact that women build strong personal networks outside as well as inside their organizations, including with clients and other outside contacts. This practice helps them translate success within one organization to another. Such a skill, I firmly believe, can be mastered by men as well as women, but let’s face it, to do anything well requires intention, attention and work!
Networks can make or break careers. They also make or break communities, regions and more. In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell noted that “strong networks (are the difference in) the successful spread of everything from ideas to reputations.” At Leadership Pittsburgh Inc., we help people build intentional networks through high-stakes, shared activities that matter to the community and the businesses of our region. We connect today’s leaders and those of tomorrow, including with the ideas that truly change lives. Sometimes I think that Verizon got it right (in more ways than even they might have intended!) when it said “it’s the network.”
My wish for the high-achieving and high-aspiring professionals is to pay attention to the potency and diversity of the networks; not to settle for an “ok plateau,” but to continue to refine those skills that can expand our potent network, and to experience the richness this brings to all our endeavors: personal, professional, and communal!
Aradhna M. Dhanda is President and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh, Inc., which strengthens regional leadership by connecting current and emerging leaders with those who are shaping the community’s future. A graduate of LPI, she is deeply committed to the Pittsburgh region and serves on many boards. Born and raised in India, Aradhna holds an MBA from Rutgers University and an MA in Psychology from Bhopal University. She is the proud mother of two boys, Kash and Brij, and lives in Wexford.