The second best investment

My career advice often emphasizes that the best investments we make are those we make in our own development. The one thing, above all others, that contributes to effective leadership and career advancement is a strong web of connections. This is the second best investment and is often neglected. It is critical to continually build our network, people with whom we can connect on many levels.To illustrate this, someone in my network asked if I had anyone in my network he could interview for a national publication.

I was thrilled to help because his project was so interesting. One of the people to whom I referred him called him from Europe! My friend wrote, "It's an understatement to say that I couldn't have done it without you. The people you introduced me to were incredibly helpful -- and they all expressed the utmost respect for you. I tried not to tarnish your association. You probably have no idea how rare it is that somebody steps forward -- as you did -- and offers to share some incredibly valuable contacts."

What can you do for people in your network to get similar results? If you think about it, it’s pretty basic. When we first moved back to our farm in Tennessee, we reconnected with our son’s friends’ parents. We needed to know the local resources for things like: septic work, tractor repair, and a farrier to look after my horses’ feet.

The academic term for this is “Social Capital.” I did quite a bit of research on this in my MBA program. I was surprised that there were studies on this. People around the world rely on informal networks to get things done. In Asia, building guanxi is a basic business practice. In the South, we just want to know “who’s yo’ mama?”

My Career Catalyst℠ coaching clients often confess that they really need to “work on” their networks, but what really seems to be most challenging is trying to figure out how best to do that.

Here are the top 3 things I’ve learned about networking:

  1. Look for opportunities to connect people. This helps you earn “chits” which you can “call in” later.

To illustrate this, someone in my network asked if I had anyone in my network he could interview for a national publication. I was thrilled to help because his project was so interesting. One of the people to whom I referred him, called him from Europe. This is true “social capital”, so be careful where you invest and choose wisely. Build your investment portfolio by finding ways to serve your networking partners.

Be more concerned about how you can give, than what you can get. Take time to “visit” with people. Get to know them on a personal level and appreciate them. Learn about their kids and dogs and cars and favorite sports teams. Share your life with them, too. It’s called "making friends.”

  1. With new networking partners, call in a few chits sooner rather
    than later. You want to know if they will help you when you need it. I hear lots of stories of people who are quick to take, but slow to give. So, don’t let that be you. And, when it happens to you, find another friend.

Don’t “save up” chits only to find out that the person for whom you’ve done many, many favors, won’t bother to return them.

  1. Take time for your network. Spend a few minutes going through your FaceBook updates. It can be a blast!

I learned that a colleague from school just got married, that a wonderful friend has a new (really cute!) puppy, and a girlfriend who made organic peach jam has promised to send me some for Christmas! Let people know what you’re reading and thinking.

Share some pictures of your life. Wish people a Happy Birthday on Skype. When you are sitting in a long line, go through your cell phone book and call someone and just say “Hey!”

Most of my Career Catalyst℠ Team dogsclients are either looking to advance or looking for a new opportunity. Did you know that 80% of positions are filled by personal referrals? This means that the more people you know, the more likely you are to find a position with the right fit. If you want to find the right garden to grow in, you will need to do some spade work.

Here are a few ways to grow your network. First, don’t neglect the network you have at your current company. Fellow employees, customers, suppliers and professional advisors are great people to connect with. Of course, don’t trade insider or confidential information, but you will see a whole new world if you take some time to learn how others see you and your company.

Don’t just look at your professional connections. Look outside of your own network. Get to know your family’s friends, including those of your offspring. Be a good networking partner to your children, too. My network is much richer from my association with my sons, who are well known in their fields.

Social activities including church, ball games, or even just standing in line at the airport, are  great opportunities for making new friends. Look around you. A good book to help is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. There is also a great blog on business networking: business-networking.blogspot.com.

Go forth and build your network.

And please, be sure that you have invited me to your network!