There is always a piece of advice that someone gives you. It could be when you are growing up, graduating from school, starting a career or getting into a leadership position. As an Executive Coach, Trainer, Speaker, Leader etc., there is one piece of advice that I share with anyone and everyone that will listen…Build Relationships Before You Need Them. “What does that mean?” is the usual question I am asked in return…
Quite simply it means to have a community that supports you, influences you to be your best and introduces you to their communities and the cycle continues. As someone who was starting a new business, what could I do with absolutely no one in my corner, living in a place where I knew no one and no opportunity to expand my reach? Trust me, it wasn’t easy, and I know it’s both do what I say AND do what I do as a lesson to myself.
Of course, some will say that group of people that you put together as your community should have hundreds, so you have plenty of support. I think it’s best if you are intentional in who you have in your circle. I like to call them my Personal Board of Directors that I have personally selected because of who they are and what their expertise are. It’s no different than what companies do, and I am my own company. Remember that those “Board” seats can expire so be prepared to have others to take their place. Your Personal Board of Directors is also your network, your community, your support system and your influencers.
Once that group is in place, it might be time to add to that group. Think about…
- Those with whom you collaborate and share information—this could be your monthly lunch group that shares connections and updates.
- Those on whom you depend when you’re in a jam—this is that special resource that you know you should have on speed dial…just in case.
- Those who depend on you to make them look good—those who don’t have the same skill sets as you and in return, they could do the same for you.
- Those with whom you’re personally connected—this could be someone from college or someone you’ve worked with before.
- Those with whom you share similar goals—this could be those that are on the same journey that you’re on and can share best practices with each other.
Of course, if you are an org chart person, these probably won’t fit into any of those slots. This group may be at your level, below your level, way beyond your level or have nothing to do with levels at all. There is a common bond that holds you all together and no org chart is needed to create the support and influence you will give and receive.
What’s the best way to create this amazing group of influencers and support…it’s called networking and I know it’s not a favorite of most people. The truth is networking is about establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the people you meet. Experts agree that the most connected people are often the most successful. When you invest in your relationships — professional and personal — it can pay you back in dividends throughout the course of your career. Networking will help you develop and improve your skill set, stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the job market, meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients, and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your career development. What’s better than that? And like anything worth having, you have to put in the work.
Let’s go back to me, the coach and trainer who tells her clients they need to build relationships before they need them. Let’s also talk about the fact that in order to build those relationships, you have to network. So, guess who doesn’t like to network? That’s correct. Let me give you my first networking experience and see if you can tell why nothing came from that.
It was a large networking event. There were hundreds of people there. I was a bit intimidated walking in and looked around. I knew no one. I walked to a table in the back of the room and found the loneliest looking man sitting there. We sat at the table for one hour. Neither said hello, neither said a word, neither exchanged cards…and at the end of the hour, I got up and went to my car. Do I need to say neither said goodbye either? When I got into my car I thought “wow I just networked” …and added “and I’ll never get that hour back again.”
So maybe that event shouldn’t have been my first one. It was too big and too many strangers all circling around like vultures waiting for their prey. Maybe I was better off in the corner with this non-communicative stranger. I get it but when you’re ready, how do you start putting together this community of strength and power and a little love? Are you involved in activities and building relationships outside of work? Do you have close friends? If you don’t know where to meet people, take a look at Cousin Google to discover networking opportunities in your area. You also can go to meetup.com to see who has formed a group on a topic of interest to you. If you don’t find what you are seeking, you can start your own group. We live in a well-connected world. Open yourself up to new experiences.
The bottom line is to surround yourself with people who believe in and support you. In addition to a coach or mentor, develop of network of colleagues who can be your accountability partners, just as you can be theirs. People can inspire you or drain you.
As Amy Poehler said, “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”