Few people have made it on their own, attributing their rise to the highest rungs of success, based solely on personal merit. Success, it seems, is owed to one’s network.
However, managing a successful network requires effort and emotional intelligence. The networking lifecycle begins with the kindling of a connection thatis then nurtured and developed over the years. If this sounds a bit maternal, it should.
Experts indicate that the time spent on ‘networking’ should be minimized; the focus should be on building deep relationships, not collecting business cards. With the rise of personal and professional social networks and communication tools, professionals are under the impressionthat they have a wide and diverse network. Yet, how many of these connections is one actually connected with? How many of them will add value to your personal or professional endeavors?
“The network is a complex web,” explains Tarek Sadi, Managing Director of Endeavor Lebanon, an organization that focuses on nurturing and scaling up the business of high-impact entrepreneurs via a network-style framework. The strategic growth of Endeavor, as well asits over 1,300 entrepreneurs globally, thrive on its network. “But it’s better to have a few deep relationships, than a huge network,” he adds.
Just how are networks built and cultivated? We explore the network lifecycle here.
1. Shared interests
To build solid connections that last, figure out what your interests are, and mingle in those settings whether it’s an art show or a conference. You will have the advantage of already having something in common, which you can build on. But make sure you do a lot of active listening. As Dale Carnegie puts it, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
2. Know your network
You have a big network, but is it diverse and thriving?How many of these people are actually engaged? Are conversations interesting and inspiring?For instance, after some reflection, Sadi says he only engages with 20 percent of his connections.
Having a diversified network isintegral for personal and professional growth. Studies have shown that the more homogenous a group is in the workplace, the less valuable the outcome.If everyone around you has the same background, social standing, age, etc, the feedback you will receive will be quite limited, thus, hindering potential growth.
3. Engage your network, genuinely
All relationships need nurturing to grow, and those within your extended network are no different. Check in every now and then with former colleagues and friends. Stay up to date with their news and genuinely reach out to them on happy and sad occasions. From a social standpoint, there is no worse feeling that a ‘friend’ showing up in times of need. The same is the case within the network – only worse.
4. Mutually beneficial reciprocity
As the law of reciprocity goes, when someone does something nice for you, there is a deep-seated urge to return the favor. But always give without expectation. This creates a genuine exchange between two human beings. Plus, there is a sense of gratification when you selflessly do a good deed.
When asking for a favor or a referral from a connection, keep the below in mind:
The medium. With so many platforms to choose from, knowing where to drop the ‘ask’ is integral. If you’re on a casual talking basis, then using Whatsapp or social media is accepted. If the relationship is more formal, or you have not connected in a while, best to call, email or use Linkedin.
The wording.The ‘ask’ should always sound like an optional exploration of one’s willingness to help. Use phrases such as “You came to mind when I was working on this,” “I was wondering if you knew anyone…” and show gratitude right from the beginning. We all enjoy knowing that our efforts may make a difference in someone’s life.
The timing. Steer clear ofpublic holidays and festive periods.
The end (kind of). Make your ‘ask’ once and then assess the other person’s response. If they are friendly, great, pursue it. If they seem reluctant, express gratitude, then ask once more and stop. If they fail to reply, follow up once in the same medium, or with a phone call, text or message.
There are exceptions to the asking game. Linda Rottenberg, co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, recounts how “many successful entrepreneurs got their start not with huge existing networks, but with a little bit of well-placed gutsiness.” When she wanted to get Endeavor going, she resorted to ‘stalking’. “I even waited for a potential mentor outside the men’s room once just to get a few minutes of face-time with him. People respond to passion and a clear articulation of why you are approaching them. At least, the victim of my stalking did: He ultimately agreed to co-chair Endeavor’s global advisory board.”
4. What you leave behind
Your reputation precedes you when you approach someone, and is what remains after an encounter. “You are as good as your last deal,” Sadi explains.
A key element of one’s reputation is delivering on a promise or giving one’s word and respecting it. This builds trust. When you ask for advice or feedback from a peer or mentor, show gratitude and it will do you well to update them after your conversation. This shows that you valued their time and opinion.
So,go ahead, knock on your network’s doors, once or twice, with care and reciprocity.