Imagine this scenario:
You’re seeking assistance for your new venture and the person you’re sharing your needs or challenges with makes the suggestion that you talk to X about it. X they imagine could be perfectly positioned to help you. You, on the other hand, aren’t convinced. You already know X. You’ve grabbed coffee together after fitness class and you’re in the same book club. You’re friends!
Besides X isn’t even in your industry. You nod at the suggestion knowing the person is trying to be helpful but really, you’ve already brushed the suggestion aside and your mind is busy conjuring the perfect stranger who can come in to solve all of your problems
Does any of that networking scenario feel familiar?
For me, all of the relationship building activities we can possibly undertake during our careers (i.e. a weekend hike with friends, an offsite with work colleagues, the dreaded industry mixer) are networking. Some networking activities are undertaken with pleasure (a volunteer project with people we regularly work with, brunch with the girls or the monthly book club) while other instances are embraced less enthusiastically (i.e. walking into a packed room and not recognizing a soul). But at the end of the day all of these activities can be bundled together and filed under the heading of networking.
Networking—the noun—is all activities and interactions we choose to undertake daily, weekly, monthly, annually. Networking at its very core is the activity of building relationships with other people. The fact of the matter is we are all doing a lot of stuff every day and throughout the day that requires us to interact with other people.
So what’s the point you may be thinking? You’re looking at your relationships all wrong and that is quite possibly holding you back.
A massive, false barrier we erect between ambition and possible success are the ways we categorize our personal relationships. The “just” mindset is how I describe it. X in the scenario at the top was “just” a friend. Someone else in your network may be just a former co-worker or just the old boss or just another member of a volunteer group or just someone at afterschool pick-up.
The just mindset causes us to only see the person in one-dimension: the narrow context where our lives happen to intersect. The parking lot or PTA meeting or barber’s chair. By only viewing someone in that single context, we fail to take into account the rich complexity of their lives and yes, we fail ourselves by not allowing the possibility that they could help us, enter our imagination.
A few “just” examples I’ve run across in my career as I’ve explored what is best practice in the how-to of modern networking. I’ve repeatedly observed how we create additional (and rather unnecessary) hurdles between ambition and achievement, when we fail to see how personal networks can also be assessed and leveraged to reach professional goals:
Just the neighbor ended up referring one executive her career-making assignment.
Just the database coordinator was related to the CEO of a client prospect – a fact the firm failed to discover because the coordinator was ‘just’ staff.
Just another mom at daycare was the general counsel at a major tech company.
Just the personal trainer was instrumental in connecting two of his – which turned into great business outcomes for all of them.
Just the wealth management advisor unlocked a significant national media opportunity.
Just as you have, the people you regularly interact with have a variety of interests (as well as past careers) and all of those interests come with personal connections you may not have in your professional network.
Break down the artificial silos between your relationships! Your best professional networking opportunity will come about when you recognize the full potential your personal contacts have to help you. So before you once again brush off the notion that your hairdresser or dog-walker can be in-any-way-shape-or-form helpful to your venture (or career), take a moment to share with them what you’re building or pursuing or struggling with. You never know what past experience or immediate personal introduction they may offer up to assist you.