Confession time: I hated business networking. Let’s just get that out there right away. As an introvert, it was pure torture for me. Nothing drained my energy faster than hanging out with a bunch of strangers, trying to make small talk. Absolute torture.
So, now that I have left you highly motivated with that little positive diatribe, let’s talk about why someone with such an aversion to networking would write an article trying to persuade you to become better at it. Why? Because it works. As much as I have personally struggled with this skill (and continues to struggle) I have seen that it works. Let me share my journey with you in the hopes that you too would see the power that a strong personal or business network can have for you and how to build one without selling your soul.
Very early in my career, I noticed how the networkers, schmoozers, and ‘brown nosers’ accelerate up the ladder past all the hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone workers. People who play golf with the boss, bring her coffee, compliments her and just constantly focuses on positioning themselves as close to the right people as possible for the pure reason of being seen, being liked and getting promoted. This created such a distaste in me that for a very long time, I refused to do anything that looked even remotely like networking or self-promotion. I had the stench of inauthentic manipulation for the sake of career advancement in my nostrils and I could not get it out. The word “networking” was the most hated word in my vocabulary.
Then, one day, my path crossed with a really amazing individual. Let’s call him Jack. Jack had the ability to get anything done that you threw at him. If you asked Jack to do something, you knew it would get done, no matter how many obstacles were in his way. At first, I thought he was just incredibly smart (which he is !) However after we worked together for the second time I began to notice that he was able to remove roadblocks that occurred in other teams and other departments. Roadblocks that others struggled to overcome. And then it dawned on me. The reason he was able to accomplish what others couldn’t, was because of his relationships!
Jack was one of the nicest guys you would ever meet. He never said a bad word about anybody and would always go out of his way to help anyone. As a result, everyone wanted to help him with anything he needed and everyone wanted him on their team. He had built incredibly solid, authentic relationships with everyone he came across and as such had a huge support network that he could tap into for help at any time. Here’s the key though. Jack did not do this as a means to an end. This was not a manipulative, strategic move on his part. He truly, authentically was just who he was and the relationships just happened.
Unbeknownst to him, Jack had started the change in my mindset that would set me on a course to eventually exponentially increase my focus on building strong, meaningful, authentic relationshipnetworks.
Jack showed me two things.
He showed me the power that I’ve been missing by trying to go it alone. He showed me that by relying only on myself and not leveraging strong authentic relationships, I wasn’t being nearly as effective as I could be.
More importantly, though, he showed me that having a strong network can be done without the dirty, manipulative, inauthentic strategies I had seen up to that point. Through his example, I could see how authentic relationships, and dare I say “friendships”, can be built and leveraged without manipulation.
Once I made the mental shift and started paying attention, I met many wonderfully honest and authentic people who were successful due to their strong networks and relationships. This taught me that “Authentic Networking” is not an oxymoron and that there IS a way to have authentic relationships that are mutually beneficial and exist for more than just getting what you want.
Now that we have the “why” answered, let’s talk about the “how”.
Three ways to create authentic networking relationships:
Be Authentic. Well Duh! It says so right in the heading. Yes, and I can’t emphasize it enough. Drop the pretense. Drop the manipulation. Just be real, be genuine, be vulnerable and be true to yourself. That said: I’m not completely naive. Does manipulative relationship networking work? Yes, it does. For a while. But 1) I’m not interested in propagating that trend and 2) I truly believe that manipulative relationships don’t last. If you go through life using people for your own benefit and leaving a trail of dead bodies in your wake, eventually it catches up to you.
Give more than you receive. Focus on being a powerful resource to others. Focus on creating networks for the sake of giving, not receiving. Look for ways that you can help others accomplish their goals and watch what happens. Think of this type of networking as farming rather than hunting. The farmer plants the seeds with a long-term view in mind. She plants, waters, fertilizes and nurtures the soil knowing that one day the benefits will come. The hunter kills, eats, and then has to kill again when he becomes hungry. He has a short-term view. Immediate gratification. Be a farmer, not a hunter. Plant seeds for the benefit of others and if those crops benefit you, great, but don’t let that be your primary goal.
Be a superconductor. I heard this analogy from a friend not long ago and I love this image. Superconductors conduct electricity perfectly, meaning it allows electrical current to flow through it without any resistance. To be a human superconductor means to connect people to each other without any resistance. In other words, help others create networks for their benefit without any benefit to yourself. This is a continuation of the previous point: “Give more than you receive.” Even though this should not be your primary focus, this is a practical way to organically grow your own network. By connecting others, you strengthen yours.
Masterminds: A case study
A couple of months ago, I created a Mastermind group. I was listening to a podcast and the speaker mentioned mastermind groups. I had never heard about his and so I did some research. This is a concept that Napoleon Hill had coined in the early 1900’s (yes, it took me a while for me to catch on!) in his timeless classic “Think and Grow Rich”. In his book, he defines the mastermind group as “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony” In today’s language I would describe it this way. It is a group focused on increasing the likelihood of success (whether in business or in life) for each of their members through a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and moral support. Individuals in the group challenge each other to set powerful goals but more importantly, hold each other accountable for accomplishing them.
Creating this group has been one of the most results-accelerating experiences I have done in a long while. It has helped me stay laser-focused on the most important aspects of my list of to-do’s and has directly impacted my ability to accomplish my goals.
Part of the reason that I believe this group has been so successful is that we exist with the sole focus of helping each other be more successful, and unselfishly so. Right from the beginning at the creation of the group we committed to the values of brutal honesty, accountability, respect and our commitment to the group. We hand-picked the people in the group; people who embody the values I listed above. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to be in a group where there is no presence, politics or posturing, just straight honesty, and support. And as a result, we have each grown and become exponentially more successful in each of our endeavors … and formed great friendships in the process.
Yes, I believe Authentic Networking doesn’t have to be an oxymoron and I believe it is both possible and effective. By adding “Authentic” as a qualifier, I hope we can get rid of the stigma attached to the term “Networking”. Focus on can building lasting relationships and we can all be exponentially more effective in everything we do.
I took me a long time to see the light. I hope I saved you some time by writing this article.