This may be a good time to reach out to your network (or build one). All the better, it can continue or start on-line.

Many think of networking as a bit like flossing – necessary but not necessarily a lot of fun. A few leaders have told me they abhor networking despite its value. They acknowledge the reality that relationships are key to their future and they know successful people have reliable and powerful networks they count on for advice, insights and support. They’re just uncomfortable doing it.

Networks are founded on common interests. Great networks consist of beneficial relationships with accomplished individuals who inspire by example, are committed to thinking differently, stretch others with pertinent questions and are willing to offer helpful feedback. You don’t just network because you want something from someone; you do it because you have a genuine desire to share your experiences and insights with a community of mutual interests and objectives.

Networks should be strategically built. The first step is to audit the effectiveness of the one(s) you already have. You do so by answering questions like these: What are the strengths and weaknesses of my current network? What’s missing? What do I bring to the table that’s unique and therefore valued? How much time do I spend nurturing it – am I proactive or a free loader? How often do I enrich it by providing unsolicited input? Is my network characterized by diversity or views similar to my own? Are our exchanges future oriented or mainly focused on the here and now?

A good networker knows how to start intriguing conversations that generate mutual edification. Here are some for your consideration: If you had to start over, knowing what you now know, what might you have done differently? What’s the most important, or toughest, decision you made in the past year? How did it affect you, your family or your company? Tell me about your “big break in life” – how did it happen? Who gave it to you? How do you define success? Or happiness? Or mastery? Or enough? If you could sit down and talk to anyone (dead or alive), who might you choose first? And what would you ask? What books have you read recently that had an impact on your life? Whenever you ask questions of a co-networker, put the focus on them, not you.

As you contemplate your reasons for constructing (or adding to) your network, consider its size, purpose, membership and method of sharing. My advice is that five is the optimum number because, like you, these are probably busy people. Choose those who’re willing to share their ideas and expertise openly, who genuinely want the network to succeed, who are good communicators, superb at keeping confidences and willing to provide relevant, candid feedback. Above all, choose people who like one another, are competent in their field and who are committed to adding value.

Be explicit about why the group exists. Is your essential purpose to have strategic business conversations about matters of importance to all members? Is it to share your visions of possible futures? Is it to suggest hypothetical workplace scenarios that might generate new tactical directions to embark upon? Are there big-picture, sounding-board conversations you’re hoping to launch? Do you need unvarnished second opinions on your personal or professional challenges? Are the discussions aimed at expanding the group’s knowledge of new business models or opportunities?

Networking is an essential skill if you aspire to become a smart leader. You can make some great new friends, get qualified referrals, increase your confidence in dealing with life’s complexities, open doors to new business leads, gain invaluable advice, build your brand or, perhaps, enhance your reputation as “one to know. ”

As you likely already understand, success is less about what you know and more about who you know. Which is why smart leaders invest the effort needed to develop diverse, dynamic, synergistic networks. They realize they can’t possibly have all the answers, nor even the right questions, in today’s uncontrollable, unpredictable, hyper-competitive marketplace. Like flossing, networking is a healthy use of your time.