Tag Archives: Networking

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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Filed under Business, How To, Influence, Leadership, Networking, Trust