Monthly Archives: August 2009

Ask Not What Your Network Can Do For You

lukeShortly before the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace—the first in a second trilogy of Star Wars movies, my husband and a friend began collecting action figures produced during the era of the original Star Wars trilogy. This strategic investment in toys accumulated in a closet. When the kids entered the picture, he relocated the collection to higher ground. In order to protect his investment from curious little fingers that would damage the otherwise pristine packaging in a desperate attempt to reach the toy, he stashed the lot in the attic. The children are well aware of the collection. However, they’ve yet to figure out how to get into the attic. Every so often, in a fit of boredom, they’ll ask to see the toys. They’ve learned that touching them is out of the question! But perhaps a glimpse, just once, would be bestowed upon them. To date, not even on a rainy day, have they been granted access; for there is hope that someday, through the magic of eBay, the collection will be magically transformed into college tuition.

Over the years, I’ve met people who have an extensive network of contacts that they hoard like the toys in my attic. Others will reach out to these individuals hoping to access needed resources. They are turned away because the network “owner” is fearful of potentially damaging his collection of valuable relationships. It is a scarcity mentality. There is a misguided belief that if one taps into his or her network too frequently or at the wrong time, then all the “favors” will be used up just when they are needed most. Many a personal and professional network, rich in character and depth, lays dormant waiting for the right moment to be cashed in. The greatest flaw in this logic is the notion that we network and build relationships in order to accumulate a reservoir of resources and favors.

Although reciprocity is a vital channel through which social capital is exchanged, it should not be the purpose of networking but rather a by-product of time spent gaining and granting trust.

One of the most rewarding experiences is making valuable connections between people who have only you, the network “owner” in common. Ron Burt, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy, describes the activity of connecting people within separate network clusters as filling “structural holes.” Positioning yourself as a hub in a diverse social network allows you to provide your contacts with tremendous value. Because people tend to move in predominantly homogenous circles (in terms of demographics, attitudes, geography, and common interests), individuals or groups who would profit from interacting are never given the chance. The person who can bridge the gap between these individuals or groups does everyone involved a great service. Malcolm Gladwell calls those in a hub role “Connectors.” In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, he states, “The point about Connectors is that by having a foot in so many worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together.”

Start by drawing out your network as a hub-and-spoke mind map. Visually laying out the various groups that make upNetwork Hub your array of contacts helps you to see the structural holes. Once the gaps are identified, you can then set about introducing people and groups who could benefit from the connection. Bridging structural holes is a win-win-win scenario. The people you connect win because they have access to resources and ideas they could not necessarily obtain on their own. Professor Burt and others have shown that companies with people who bridge structural holes win because these organizations are better able to implement new ideas and new technologies, and are more innovative. The third win goes to the person making the connections. As you generously and appropriately engage your network to help others, you receive in return stock piles of the ingredients for influence. Effectively matching up individuals and groups boosts your credibility, demonstrates that you have the right intentions, and strengthens the trust bonds between you and the parties involved. In addition, Professor Burt has found that the number of structural holes a person bridges relates to career success, including promotions and salary, and provides a greater return on education and experience.

So, in homage to the late great JFK, when considering how to handle the relationships in which you’ve invested so much time…

Ask not what your network can do for you–ask what you can do for your network.

Ideas for further reading (click here)

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Network While You Work

Continuing the Saying What You Mean focus on how to grow as a leader by incorporating influence-building strategies into your work-style, this week, we look at the world of social networks.

Influential leaders spend time in the center of and making connections between personal and business networks. For most highly influential people, networking is a natural part of life.

However, if you’re like me, and came to the party late, networking tends to feel more like a necessary evil than an networkinginstinctive way of life. Apparently this is a common sentiment. According to Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter, in their Harvard Business Review article, How Leaders Create and Use Networks,”…we’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.”

Before we take the leap into this brave new world, or in the case of strong networkers, before encouraging those we’re mentoring to take the plunge, let’s make sure we know it’s worth it. Then, we can review some simple strategies for getting started.

The biggest hang-up I had with networking is that it seemed to be at worst a self-serving means for getting resources or referrals from others and at best a shallow exchange of favors.

From the outside looking in, networking appeared to be a lot of one hand washing the other with intermittent bouts of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Even the Ibarra/Hunter quote above speaks to a group of contacts providing to the leader. It doesn’t mention anything about what the leader is giving back. However, my personal experiences on the networking learning curve, watching master networkers in action, and hours of reading up on the subject, have all cleared up this initial misconception about networking.

While it is true that the availability of networks from which to obtain information and support is vital to effective leadership that is only a small piece of the picture. The process of “creating a fabric of personal contacts,” requires leaders to earn peoples’ trust by establishing credibility, demonstrating integrity, developing a reputation for adding value, and learning to trust others. These results necessitate far more doing and giving than taking. For example:

  • Using expert time management and organizational skills to plan and run a successful local conference establishes credibility with and adds value to a project team far better than simply handing around a business card that reads “Senior Project Manager.”
  • Spending time meeting new people and forming long-term relationships with them provides a veritable work-out room for toning core leadership “muscles” such as interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Seeking out network contacts for counsel, ideas, and even a little elbow grease signals high levels of trust in those individuals. When trust is given, trust is earned.

An investment in networking returns technical, political, and personal guidance and insight, opens doors to new opportunities, and fortifies your leadership position with coalitions that ultimately make it easier to get results and facilitate decision-making.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, in his Stanford Graduate School of Business Note on Social Networks and Network Structure, states it best, “People intuitively know that networks matter—that where someone is located in the social space and who that individual is connected to can affect that person’s power and influence and even his or her career trajectory.”

Even after I understood that networking is a key ingredient for enhancing influence, I was still hesitant to get started. My reluctance to leave my comfort zone kept me from making the time to network. See, I’m a cave dweller. I believe the trendy parlance is “cloud commuter.” I can and do spend hours in my office working on client projects, reading, and coming up with brilliant blog topics. When I figured out how to link Twitter and Facebook, I thought I’d found cave-dweller networking nirvana! I could meet people from around the world and never have to don a business suit again. Then, I noticed that the people who were actually growing their business through social media were meeting their online networks offline and in person. Holy Tweetup Batman, it’s time to leave the cave!

For influence-builders who need to start networking and networkers who could you some fresh ideas, the strategies that have worked best for me are:

  1. Start Local
  2. Join groups where you can make a significant contribution
  3. Get to know people outside of your “inner circle”

Here are a few practical ideas:

  • Get involved with groups that are geographically convenient. The less time you have to travel to attend a meeting, the more likely you’ll be to show up consistently.
  • Use lunch hours, coffee breaks, and time standing outside conference rooms waiting for the other meeting to finish, to get to know people outside of your immediate department or functional area.
  • Join or bring together people with similar interests who might not otherwise work together. Philanthropic initiatives offer outstanding opportunities to lend a hand to a cause and develop long-term friendships with a variety of people from all areas of an organization or community.
  • Join a Chamber of Commerce and/or professional organization. Be sure to attend all meetings.  It’s difficult to establish trust and build long-term relationships with people you see infrequently. Become actively involved. You’ll build stronger relationships working side by side with people than just sitting next to them at an after hours mixer.
  • Participate in organizations or events that are meaningful to your customers and where you can add value. For example, if you sell educational software, volunteer your time in the school district literacy program. The students aren’t your buyers, but they’re your end-users. In the process of teaching them, you’ll learn more than you can imagine.
  • Take on only what you can do well. You want to establish your credibility by doing what you say you are going to do. For example, if you’re swamped with work and family life, forego being on the board of your professional organization. Instead, volunteer to participate in or run a committee or a single event.
  • When possible, opt for activities you can do with your kids and spouse (local running or bike races, community clean up committees/events, filling back-packs for underprivileged children, etc.). This way, networking provides quality family time rather than taking you away from the ones you love.

What other suggestions do you have for making networking a routine practice?

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Trust to be Trusted

The post on Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence introduced a list of best practices that comprise an Influence Style or I-Style. The goal is to make these activities a natural part of your business (and personal) life in order to ensure you are continually enhancing your influence. Focus on Building Trusting Relationships tops this list because trust is at the heart of your ability to succeed in all the other I-Style activities.

 

Pop-Quiz: If you were asked to build trusting relationships with co-workers, vendors, prospects, clients, or managers, which set of behaviors would you apply to the task? Blue side or White side?trust

 

 Hopefully this exercise was not rocket science (that means I hope you thought the White side is the obvious choice!). In general, it is easy to list out behaviors that either build trust or destroy trust. But when faced with a trying or spontaneously challenging situation, it’s equally easy to be spurred into non-trustworthy behaviors. Making a conscious effort to improve the ability to motivate others to take action creates a hyper-vigilance around demonstrating trust-building behaviors and avoiding actions and attitudes that tear down trust. Being Trustworthy is seen as the single most important aspect to earning the trust necessary to be influential.

By putting so much emphasis on being trusted by others, we tend to neglect or maybe aren’t aware of the second aspect of the trust building process: Trusting Others. Granting Trust is as important as Earning trust. It’s like an exercise in 9th grade logic: If, A. People are more likely to follow leaders they trust and B. People are far more willing to trust someone they know trusts them. Then, C. People are more likely to follow leaders who demonstrate trust in them. In the foreword to the book, Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life, Norm Blake, the former Chairman, President, and CEO of USF&G Corporation describes the two sides of the equation as such:

“Paramount to earning trust is consistently demonstrating that you are fair, honest, open, and competent. People need to know that you tell the truth and earnestly act on your principles and beliefs…Equally important to your ability to successfully turn a company around is being able to trust those you are dependent upon for making it happen.”

Being trustworthy is a product of behaviors. Trusting others is a matter of mindset. I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Stroh, the author of Trust Rules, at a launch event for her book .

As part of her presentation, she challenged us to use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “totally unwilling to trust” and 10 being “totally willing to trust,” to rate how much we trust someone we’ve just met. Take a moment and consider how you’d rate yourself on that scale.

Some people tend to be on the lower end of the scale because they’ve been burned in the past by trusting too much too soon. For these folks, trust is a treasured gift they mete out conservatively. At the other end of the spectrum, are those who steadfastly adhere to the “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy and grant complete trust from the onset of a relationship. Linda Stroh points out that, “trusting too much is just as detrimental to our welfare as not trusting enough.”

The amount of trust we are willing to grant others is affected by our life experiences and the need for practical discernment. An effective strategy for trusting others is to adopt the mindset that there exists a common ground between others and us. Then, actively pursue that common ground with people you need to be able to trust. The strategy of Seeking Common Ground allows you to give people enough trust upfront so that the relationship can progress forward without making yourself too vulnerable to blind-faith in that person. Seeking CommonGround means identifying the mutually beneficial terms under which the relationship can exist.

Here is an example to demonstrate the process:

Devin is a sales person who has been burned badly by people in the past. His tendency is to not trust anyone until they’ve proven themselves worthy (which is an arbitrary test over the course of an indeterminate amount of time). He has been asked to partner with Sue from marketing on a project for a specific account. The team is on a tight deadline with little margin for error. They have to work together. Although Devin’s inclination is to be suspicious of Sue, he tries to find common ground upon which to start their working relationship. What do you think that would be? Maybe it’s a shared interest in helping the customer or a shared desire to see the project succeed. By finding this common ground, Devin can give Sue enough trust to earn her trust and to collaborate efficiently and effectively. During the course of the project, Devin can watch Sue’s behaviors, learn more about her character, and decide how trustworthy she really is. Alternatively, he can use the context of the project to demonstrate trust building behaviors to earn a deeper level of trust from her.

As part of the Seeking Common Ground strategy, I recommend leveraging tools such as the Trust Rules Questionnaire that Ms. Stroh developed based on extensive research. The tool helps you determine how trustworthy you perceive someone to be based on a set of twenty characteristics. It’s an excellent way to put some rigor around the usual vagueness of “gut instinct.”

Influence as a leadership asset hinges on our ability to earn trust and our willingness to prudently grant trust. This means we have to be intentional about our behaviors and use strategies such as Seeking Common Ground to lay strong foundations from which to build lasting relationships.

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How to Self-Promote Unselfishly

Last week, Erica posted this comment:

 “I enjoyed this article. I thought the points about how we “tend to construct barriers” were very interesting, and that you were right on about the dislike of coming off or being manipulative of others. Where my situation differs is that the context I am working in is my own (one person) business, rather than within a larger organization. Therefore, I am interested breaking down mental barriers to precisely the thing that the article defines as being negative: “self-promotion”, but which in the context of one’s own business, is rather necessary and desirable. I’m curious if you can share any thoughts on that?”

 Erica, I work on my own too so I can relate to your situation. You are correct, as an independent contractor, consultant, or product/service provider, marketing technically boils down to “self-promotion.” I believe your concern is how to market your capabilities without coming off as bragging, egotistical or self-serving. The good news is that, when marketing as a solo-practitioner, self-promotion does not have to be synonymous with self-aggrandizement. The two are distinguished by context and intention.spotlight (see also table at end of post)

For the sake of simplicity, I tend to discuss influence as a leadership resource within the realm of a single organization. In this context, “self-promotion” is about pushing an agenda that serves only personal objectives even at the expense of others or the organization. The intention behind the self-promoting behaviors is first and foremost personal gain. The words and actions of individuals who are intent on serving their own needs or desires are often interpreted as coercive or manipulative. This holds true even when the organization is a staff of one. The difference is that for sole-practitioners, our intentions are being read not by co-workers but by prospective buyers and customers.

For the one person business, the issue of intent becomes a matter of whether we’re “in it for #1” or if we truly care about making a contribution to our customers’ organizations and the community at large. Ultimately, prospects and customers are repelled when they sense that their needs are coming in a distant second to the needs of the provider. For example, the use of social media speaks volumes about business intentions. Who are you more likely to trust and purchase from: someone who uses social media as a channel to offer genuine support and valuable information or the person flooding your inbox or Twitter timeline with impersonal unsolicited offers to buy his product or service?

Here’s a recent personal example. I’ve been helping one of my clients select a web developer/SEO provider. He’s narrowed his selection down; but because of business circumstances has delayed his final decision. The vendors have been following up with me. I appreciate those that touch base here and there. However, the one company I was pushing as the “top choice” has been pursuing me a little too hard. They’ve even voluntarily lowered their initial bid; which makes me wonder why they didn’t just provide us their best pricing in the first place. I’m starting to get the sense that they are desperate for customers or the salesperson has a big personal stake in closing the deal. If they are this concerned about their business in the dating phase of the relationship, what’s going to happen once they’ve tied the knot?

If you are concerned that your efforts at self-promotion might be construed as self-aggrandizement, first, ask yourself this:

Are you promoting your capabilities as a means to push your personal agenda, potentially at the expense of others?

Or

Are your efforts at self-promotion a means to let prospects and customers know how you can help them achieve their targeted results?

What’s the truth behind your intentions?  Whose business objectives come first: yours or your customers?

If your intentions are in the right place, take the time to understand the role that prospects or customers play in their market space. Determine what your customers do for their customers. Next, assess how your product or service helps your customers do this better, faster, or for less money. Then, build a marketing engagement that reflects your intentions and communicates value from the buyer’s perspective.

Lastly, incorporate the I-Style practices into your marketing efforts, apply them within customer relationships, and use them to be a catalyst between organizations. As long as your daily pursuit of these activities and behaviors is driven by a desire to contribute to “the greater good”, you will be self-promoting without self-aggrandizing.

What steps can you take to make them part of your marketing efforts? How can you apply these practices both across and within your customer organizations?

promotevaggrandize

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Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence

By a show of hands, how many of you have a membership to a gym?

gymFor those of you getting funny looks because you’re sitting in front of your computer with your hand in the air, when was the last time you worked out at the gym? Here’s what just happened: some people quickly scanned back across the previous 12- 24 hours to remember their last workout. Others had to think back 12-24 months to remember the last time they were even at the gym. Yet, what both groups have in common are the choice to join a fitness center and the good intentions to use the membership to improve their health. It’s what happened next that differentiates the “regular attenders” from the “card carrying non-users.” The portion of people who workout at the gym regularly changed their attitudes and behaviors to incorporate routine exercise into their lifestyle. The “card carrying non-users” didn’t make the changes in mindset and schedule required to get the most out of the membership.

Just like improving physical fitness, becoming more influential is a about making lifestyle adjustments to prioritize certain activities over others. Though two people may make the same choice to enhance personal influence as a means to achieve objectives for “the greater good,” it’s the one who commits to an Influence Style who will succeed. An Influence Style, or I-Style for short, is an attitude and set of practices that are part of an influential person’s routine.

Influence, or motivating others to willingly take action in support of your goals to benefit the organization, is derived from: personal characteristics, the ability to identify and capitalize on situational advantages, and a willingness to lend personal resources when they fit a situational need.

Leveraging an I-Style makes it easier to naturally tap into available sources of influence giving us the trust, credibility, and value we’ll need to inspire others to action.

When you’re working with I-Style, you:

  • Focus on building trusting relationships.
  • Position yourself in the center of strong personal and business networks both face-to-face and through Social Media.
  • Find ways to make meaningful connections for the people in your networks.
  • Learn what is valued within the context and culture of your organization, team, or group. Determine if/how you can make meaningful contributions based on this value system.
  • Actively improve your insightfulness.
  • Identify and, if possible, use your skills and resources to bridge the gap between groups or within a given process.

Although some were pleased that at least a few of these items are already part of their modus operandi, many readers were listing the reasons why these practices won’t work for them. The latter reaction is natural. When faced with a behavior change that we know is going to cause discomfort or require a steep learning curve, our first inclination is to tighten our grip on the status quo. Despite the advertising slogans, our personal motto becomes…

“Some pain, hmm, is it worth the gain?”

When we’re not completely convinced that the price is worth the prize, we tend to construct barrierstime out of excuses and rationalizations. A typical self-constructed barrier is to look at the effort it will take to modify schedules and activities and then determine that “there’s just no time.”  Realistically though, this is not a very accurate complaint. We all have the same 24 hours each day. No one person has more time than another. The real issue is that we’re reluctant to channel time away from activities that are within our comfort-zone.  This particular barrier is not as much about having time as it is about making time.

While many of the self-imposed hurdles, such as perceived time constraints, arise from a reluctance to re-prioritize our focus, some spawn from misconceptions about influence. Think back to a time when you knew someone was trying every trick in the book to get you to do what he/she wanted despite your interest or desire. How did you feel about that person? What word comes to mind other than “influential” for describing that person? Is it “manipulative?” The tendency for persuasion, manipulation, and influence to be used interchangeably makes us timid about applying influence techniques. We are concerned about being perceived as coercive.  However, the difference in meaning between influence and its negative siblings in the lexiconic family lies not in the dictionary but within ourselves. If our intent is self-promotion, then the recipients of  our actions will feel they are being forced and manipulated.  On the other hand, if our intent is to promote the organization, then our actions will make others feel that they are being included in a worthwhile cause. 

Look back at the list of common practices influential people engage in on a regular basis. If  you are having difficulty getting others to contribute time, attention, or resources to initiatives outside of their typical job duties, and yet very few of the practices on the list are part of your work-style, what has been holding you back from adding influence to your leadership development plan? In order to make some or all of these a way of life, we have to begin by naming and conquering the personal barriers that have prevented us from enhancing our influence to date. Here are a few more common hurdles. Do any of these ring a bell?

  • I feel that when the truth is obvious, I shouldn’t have to influence others to earn their buy-in
  • I tend to be cautious about trusting others especially those I’ve just met or have not known for very long
  • Work is hectic so I often “seize the moment” when an opportunity arises to address ideas or concerns with people
  • I prefer to spend my time with colleagues and coworkers “in my area.” I’m not one to branch out and meet new people throughout the organization

If none of these barriers relate to you, what if any personal issues have been keeping you from becoming more influential?

Influence is not the hammer you pull out the moment you see the nail. It is the apprenticeship and training you go through long before you attempt to build a house. The best time to start enhancing your influence is as far in advance of when you’ll need to use it as possible. The next best time to start is today.

Begin developing your  I-Style by determining 1 or 2 steps you can take to remove your top 3 personal barriers to influence. Return next week to learn more about how to incorporate each of the I-Style practices into your routine.

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