Every year for the past several years, I’ve had the great fun of speaking at a leadership academy in San Antonio that’s the brain child of a cool woman who’s become a dear friend.
Today, we were talking about important relationships for leaderships and developing networks.
Lately, I’ve spoken a lot about networks and why I think networking is a misnomer. Think about it. Who wants to “network?” It makes you imagine a large net with trapped fish and, well, WORK!
And the reality is, if you are networking to build your career “just” to network, then it isn’t likely to bring you much value. It’s purposeless and therefore unlikely to yield strategic results.
But if instead, we make it about connecting, it starts to become a little less intimidating. I brand this exercise, “Connect-For.” When we look at what we’re connecting FOR, then we become a lot more likely to want to do it and to enjoy it once we’re in an environment with new people.
So how do we figure out how to connect purposefully and build that, dare we say, ‘network?’
Let’s look at four questions we should answer before connecting: Why, Who, Where, and How?
First up, WHY? What’s the point? Well, there really is a point. Have you ever moved to a new city and need connections there? Are you passionate about something (animals, children’s education, gardening) and you want to learn more or find like-minded people? Do you want to move into a new industry and need to learn more about it? Are you trying to grow in your career in your company and want to understand how things work?
There are lots of reasons WHY you need to expand your connections. But unless you sit down with a paper and pen and write down what’s important to you and where you have gaps in your connections, you’ll never know. Without knowing the motivation for your action, you won’t be focused, know who to look for, or where to start looking.
Once you know the why, you need to ask WHO you should be connecting with. There are three broad categories: within your company, within your industry but outside your company, and within your area of passion (e.g., running, sports, arts, food, etc.). Make a chart. Put these areas on the left column. Then, across the top row, put these three categories: Senior, Peer, and Junior.
Do you have folks names in each of those buckets? Are you building up someone junior to you in your company? Are you connecting with an executive in your industry? Do you have friends that like the same things you like? You don’t need a dozen folks for each of these categories. In fact, you probably shouldn’t have that many because heavens know you can’t keep up with them all. But if you have no one’s name in one of these categories, then you have identified a hole in your connections. One you can strategically set out to fill.
Once you know the why and who of connecting, it’s time to figure out the where and how. The WHERE depends entirely on who you are: a planner or last minute actor, a goal setter or activist, the life of the party or quiet conversationalist. I love getting to know someone. Poor co-workers who travel with me get pulled into the deep end fast. I find out about their relationships, their background, their family, their interests, etc. No light-hearted weather conversation for me. No sirree. So bopping from person to person with cocktail conversation in a crowded room is not a good fit for me. But it may be perfect for you.
When you have figured out the forums that are most comfortable to you, then cast a broad net over where you find new connections. Industry associations, professional groups, alumni associations, faith or community organizations, kid sporting events, etc. The list is endless. Identify places that play well to your strengths (volunteering) at a place you’ll encounter folks who could fill in your connection gaps.
Finally, that gets us to the HOW. First things first, DO IT. If you’ve taken the time to strategize about how to build a more powerful connection base, then you need to do it. Set goals. Put smaller target goals on your calendar and also calendar activities.
I keep a standing “lunch with friends” on my outlook calendar on Fridays from 11:30 to 1. I don’t always take it but this enables me to keep the time open for connection activities. These connection activities are the first things to fall off our priority list otherwise. Find ways to support, help, or otherwise connect new people you meet. Set out to find commonalities you have with new connections. You absolutely have them, and you usually can find them when you’re looking.
Most of all, be patient. Relationships take a long time to build. In a Twitter, cell phone, high-speed Internet era, we expect everything to happen fast. Relationships don’t. They take time to build. Time to develop trust and reliability. Most research says it takes seven to ten independent connection points to actually cement a relationship. So hang in there. And be intentional. It will pay off.