Networking is a foundational asset that every learning and development (L&D) leader must have in their repertoire. In its simplest form, networking is the art of building relationships. As a learning leader, your relationships determine your impact. There are two types of relationships you should seek to develop: horizontal and vertical relationships. Let’s explore how you can build relationships in both of these categories.

How to Develop Horizontal Relationships

Horizontal relationships are connections in which people share a similar status in age or occupation. These relationships are often friends, colleagues and co-workers. It is essential for a learning leader to have a network of people who share their similar status or occupation because those relationships can serve as a springboard for ideation, collaboration and motivation.

In addition to connecting with L&D professionals from outside of your organization, establishing social ties with others inside your company can help boost company culture.

How to Develop Vertical Relationships

Vertical relationships are connections in which someone is more senior than you or you are more senior than them. For example, employer to employee, teacher to student or parent to child. Vertical relationships serve both dichotomies and present an interesting opportunity to become a mentee and also become a mentor.

Mentorship is a game changer because the mentor can help accelerate the learning curve of the mentee by providing insights related to their experiences. It is vital that we all identify a mentor (or multiple mentors) to support our career development.

This relationship helps us make more sound decisions and expedites our growth. However, while it’s important that we find a mentor, it’s equally important that we identify someone as our mentee. We should identify someone who we can routinely meet with to support their professional development.

When we, as L&D leaders, are able to both mentor and be a mentee, we can advance the field for the better.

5 Ways to Get Started

Here are five ways to begin building your professional network:

  1. Become a board member for a company or nonprofit organization.
    • Often, startups or local nonprofits are seeking forward thinking leaders for its board. This is a great way to foster relationships centered around a noble cause.
  2. Become a member of a professional, industry association.
    • Being involved with an industry association and attending its annual events not only exposes a learning leader to best practices, but also introduces them to colleagues beyond their regional demographic.
  3. Connect with the people in your company.
    • One can develop professional connections with many colleagues inside their organization.
  4. Get involved with a leadership organization in your municipality.
    • Most cities have a leadership development hub that attracts local leaders. This presents an interesting opportunity to network with a diverse set of ambitious professionals residing in the municipality.
  5. Get involved with your alma mater.
    • Many colleges and universities articulate its alumni network as a value add to its educational institution. However, many fail to fully leverage this rich network beyond graduation. Whether your university was big or small, it is a wonderful opportunity to establish a rapport with fellow alums that have preceded and succeeded you.

Building valuable relationships take both time and consistency, and the best relationships are symbiotic. So, the question becomes, “What value am I bringing to each relationship?” If you can assuredly answer that question, it will lead to a fuller, more fruitful, and abundant career as you foster both horizontal and vertical relationships.