In the early stages of launching my consulting business, I needed to build a bigger network of business leaders. As an early career person, I had several mid-level connections, but I needed to make contact with the “decision makers,” individuals that would have the authority to hire me. I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and, as an extrovert and someone who enjoys meeting new people, was feeling excited about the opportunity to network and meet people that would potentially become clients. The first event I attended was an “after hours” business networking event. I got dressed up, grabbed my newly minted business cards, gave myself a pep talk, and headed in with confidence.
It didn’t go as I planned it in my head.
I walked in the front door, saw several groups of people that were standing in pods of 3–4, laughing and having a good time together. I didn’t know how to break into the pods of people, I didn’t really know anyone in my immediate view, and was feeling more and more anxious as time passed by. I have rarely felt more uncomfortable than I did as the person standing awkwardly in the room by himself. I didn’t know what to do. How do I break into a conversation? What do I say when I get into one?
Eventually, after getting a few refreshments and making small comments about food and weather to random people, I found a friendly person who initiated conversation. What do you do? Great question, thanks for asking! I proceeded to talk about myself for roughly 3–4 minutes and all the amazing work I was aiming to do. I could see the energy suck out of her. She couldn’t wait to get out of the conversation. This process repeated itself until I found one person who I knew who I followed like a lost puppy for the remainder of the time. My network grew by 0. I felt embarrassed and disappointed. I had failed at networking and was questioning if I could muster doing it again.
Why does networking suck?
Networking… for some the word just sends chills down the spine. Networking is the thing all professionals do and the thing the vast majority of professionals dislike. If you’re seeking a job, trying to break into a new industry, advance in your current employment, etc., the fact that you are seeking something from someone ramps up the fear, the feelings of inadequacy, and self-doubt. It can genuinely feel like isolation even though you’re in a room full of people.
Networking, as Casciaro, Gino, and Kouchaki put it, can feel “exploitative and inauthentic.” The inadequacy and self-doubt comes from not knowing where to start, how to “sell” yourself, or asking a person you’ve just met for something that matters a great deal to you. It comes from the idea that the exercise of networking is inherently self-serving. It’s about you getting what you want. We want something from someone else and we believe they have something that we need.
But we need to network
Networking, despite it’s fear and “this sucks” inducing tendency, is necessary. Moving through a company and up the ladder, getting a new job, finding new clients, breaking into a market, all has a strong correlation to who you know and your network. Porter Gale wrote a book, “Your Network is Your Net Worth.” There’s a good deal of truth in that. The ability to build/grow/expand/advance in all industries is directly related to who you know and your ability to leverage relationships.
If we know that networking matters, despite the stigma that most of us hate it, how do we move through it and get good at building a network?
How to think about networking
If we’re being honest, we probably would rather be on our phones checking our Instagram accounts and sharing pictures of how “awesome we are at networking” — all to avoid actually networking with people.
Here is the way to think about networking: It’s about adding value. How do you do that? First and foremost, let go of the outcome.
Part of what makes networking feel terrible is the self-serving nature of it. By focusing on the other person, you remove the attention from yourself. When we are self-focused, we tell ourselves some pretty demeaning narratives — you’re not enough; they aren’t going to like you; I hate this and suck at this; I’m never going to get to my target. When we focus on others, those narratives fade to the background and reduce the fear, anxiety, and stress that come with them.
By focusing on adding value, we can let go of the outcome — I need a job, I need a client, I need to break into this new industry, etc — which allows the focus to move from ourselves to directly onto the person you are talking to. You have no control over the outcome either way — it’s not your decision whether they help you or not — all you can control is how you show up in the conversation with that person.
Letting go of the outcome allows you to focus on what really works in networking, adding value for the other person.
And, in reality, the more you add value to the person you are talking to, the more likely they are to give you value. Humans have a natural desire to reciprocate. By serving first, you are more likely to receive what you need in return.
How do you add value?
This doesn’t have to be a hard as it may sound. We often think of adding value as a tangible deliverable that we can give someone else (if you’re a recent college graduate, what can you offer the CEO?). The beautiful thing is that value is scalable. Here’s three thoughts on value you can add while networking:
What work do you love doing?
What are the greatest challenges you face?
What do you hope for in the future?
What are the next steps for you?
What do you need to be able to move forward, and how can I help?
What opportunities do you have in your current situation?
Who is someone you’d like to know?
Side Note: When networking, I often use the “rule of 3.” I ask three questions in a row about a particular thread of the conversation. By the end of the third question, the person I am talking to has generally discovered something new about themselves — a true service!
2. Introducing the person to your own network. One of the great things about networking is getting to share the wonderful people that you know, which in turn expands both of their networks. Don’t be afraid to introduce to other people and make relational connections.
3. Provide resources and/or feedback. What connections can you make to resources you know or have access to? How can you answer or offer support for what they need/are looking for? What feedback do you have that can aid the person you’re talking to into getting what they are looking for? Providing insights, learning, or access to resources can add value to others and deepens the desire to reciprocate.
All of the above provide value for the other person and are avenues each person can take. By shifting focus to adding value to the person you’re talking to, the fear and self-serving agenda slip away, and your confidence increases as you not only build their network but build your own.
After my first few days in the new role, my supervisor pulled me aside. The lines were not straight. It looked more like sound waves or a condensed heart-beat pattern. Instead of reprimanding or coming down on me, he asked me a question: “Where are you looking?”
This question caught me off-guard. Of course my eyes were down, looking at the mower blades to make sure I was on the line. I wanted to be able to react to everything in short time. He looked at me and said, “Look 30 feet ahead, see what happens.”
Don’t let the short-term get in the way of the long-term
We all have an urgency bias. We want to do the work that’s right in front of us. We want to be able to react in real time to real time needs. With so much information and so many responsibilities (emails, texts, social media, work challenges, family needs, etc.) we tend to do what’s right in front of us and lose sight of where we want to go. We get trapped in the rat race and before we know it, we feel overwhelmed and are spinning our wheels. If we have the fortitude to step out of the day-to-day and take a look at our life, it’s often hard to see how we got sucked in.
The challenge with our urgency bias is that we spend all of our energy focusing on the immediate and lose sight of the long-term. We’re keeping our eyes fixated on the mower blades hoping that if we react quickly enough the lines will be straight. They won’t. We can’t react quickly enough. And the truth is, keeping our eyes down only perpetuates the immediate challenges and urgency we face.
To move through this, it’s important to understand the difference between speed and velocity. It’s saying no to the non-essential. It’s putting our priorities first, knowing that the long-term is the filter in which we should determine short-term action. Does this matter right now? Is it helping me achieve the long-term goal?
Do less, accomplish more.
Too many choices, too many responsibilities, and it leads to indecision and little forward movement. It turns into chaos. This isn’t limited to entrepreneurs, it’s all of us. We all try to be the best we can be, but our ability to be our best depends on where our eyes are looking.
The key to accomplishing more is to pick a target and put your energy there. Stop trying to be all things to all people, and start being a great thing to a few people.
As Peter Block says: “If we can’t say no, our yes means nothing.”
Put the Rocks in First.
In his book, First Things First, Steven Covey shared an adage about putting rocks in a jar that speaks directly to the mentality of putting the important things first.
Picture a glass cylinder. Next to the cylinder are rocks, gravel, sand, and water. Rocks represent what’s most important to you, gravel represents your day-to-day responsibilities, sand represents the daily interruptions you experience, and water is everything else that happens in a day. The cylinder represents all the time you have in a day. If you put anything but the rocks in first, there will be no room for the rocks. The water, sand, and gravel will fill the cylinder and the rocks will be left to the side. If you put the rocks first, there is still room for the gravel, the sand, and the water.
What are your main priorities? What matters to you? Where do you want to go with your life? What are the goals that you have? The answers to these questions are your rocks.
If you want to change your life, you have to set a direction.
Before change can happen, you need to determine which change you’d like to make. You might stumble on something, but you’re far more likely to find something if your eyes are looking 30 feet ahead. Looking ahead requires us to name where we want to go, to put a label on it, not just fly by the seat of our pants and see what happens.
This requires setting goals. Here’s a piece on why goals matter. It’s a great list, and ultimately the fundamental benefit of goals is that they point us in a direction, providing a lens in which we see our work and what we are doing. It narrows our focus from the infinite possibilities to a target we can achieve. It’s proactive, not reactive. It gives us a filter in which we can determine what’s a “no” and what’s a “yes.”
But goals can be scary. How do you know it’s the right goal? Are you willing to commit to this particular goal and give it your all? Do I even know what I want?
Here’s a few mental hurdles to get over:
1) Writing down a goal doesn’t mean it will (or has to) happen. Goals change over time and it should be an ongoing process. It’s not about having the perfectgoal, it’s about having a goal that works right now. Pick something and go with it.
2) Writing down a goal doesn’t make it hurt more if you don’t reach it. If you didn’t write it down, were you going to reach it anyways?
3) Sharing a goal with a trusted circle isn’t humiliating. In fact, it can be liberating. It not only adds accountability, but it puts some energy behind the goal, helps clarify the goal as you invite others into it, and strengthens your conviction.
What does a good goal entail?
There’s a very succinct and effective way to sketch your goals. One of the foremost authorities on goals, Zig Ziglar, offered a method that breaks goals into seven categories (Check out his method here and his worksheet here.)
The categories Zig offers invite specificity, concreteness, and a plan:
PitfallsLike all useful goals, the goals that are worth your time and effort are important to you, they’re specific and they have a specific time frame associated with them. If the goals don’t make you a little uncomfortable, it’s probably not important enough to you.
Here’s a few pitfalls in goal setting:
Here’s to looking 30 feet ahead.
This originally posted on Medium.
With the vast majority of entrepreneurial clients I work with, the leadership team and managers spend most of their time dealing with “difficult” people. They wonder how they can get more from their team, how they feel like they can’t “let go” and delegate, and how it’s hard to get employees to care as much as they do.
Yes. It’s hard to run a business, it’s hard to get the most out of your team. But, it’s not as hard to empower and inspire your staff and engage them in a way that brings out their best gifts as you may think.
Leaders are often looked to as the people that have all the answers. They’ve figured it out. They know things, that’s why they are leading. Empowerment, however, does not exist in having the answers. Empowerment comes from having the right questions.
Albert Einstein was once asked what he would do if he was given the world’s toughest problem and only an hour to solve it. He said he would spend the first 55 minutes coming up with the right question, because if he knew the right question, he would get the right answer.
Managing and leading others is much the same. If the toughest problem you’re facing in your business is empowering your team to give their best effort, solve problems, and be more active and productive, Einstein’s method is the path to addressing that problem.
Mike is a hard nosed New Yorker who talks tough and has 30 years of experience in the manufacturing industry. You wouldn’t want to go toe to toe with Mike. He has a big frame, an intimidating voice, and a thick NY accent. Underneath this foreboding exterior is a man with a soft spot who cares deeply about the wellbeing of the people he manages. In our many conversations, he inevitably tears up anytime he and I discuss his employees, and how difficult it has been for them as they implement a new software system. The implementation has been a nightmare. His staff are crying in his office, and it’s breaking morale.
In a one hour meeting with Mike, he noted that by the end of our meeting he had 19 emails of “fires” he was going to have to go and fix. He was lamenting how hard it was for him to step away because he needed to be there and solve all these problems. His staff needed him. They couldn’t do it alone, and they needed Mike to come and solve the problems. With his 30 years of experience, Mike has all the answers.
As a leader in his company, Mike is responsible for the outcome, for driving results, and for knowing how to create those results. Mike knowing all the answers, however, perpetuates the problem. As the great W. Edwards Demming pointed out, “The system is perfectly designed to produce the results that it is producing.” The path that’s been created — Mike has all the answers and we need him to solve the problem — perpetuates the challenge and disempowers the employees.
A recent Gallup study indicated that 87% of employees are disengaged at work. 87%!!! That’s 1 in 10 that is actually engaged. That is a staggering number. One of the culprits is the system of “leaders needing to have the answers.” Solving everyone’s problems is not leadership. It is a tool for superiority, not for empowerment or engagement. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. This approach leads to burnout, frustration, and disengages employees.
Great leadership in an organization creates environments where employees have the capacity and authority to create change wherever they are in the organization. In this sense, leadership builds capacity for employees and invites them into the change.If we’re always providing the answer, the people around us have created mental pathways that indicate us as the solution to the problems. If we ask questions, inviting employees and colleagues to think for themselves, then we create new neural pathways that pull out wisdom, knowledge, and creativity from the people around us. This approach not only creates new neural pathways, but it also reduces the amount we are needed over time.
*Side note: In order to see the system differently, a great question is: What is my contribution to the very thing I complain about?
Just like the investing phrase — you have to spend money to make money — , if you want more time, you have to spend time to get time. It takes time to cultivate and empower employees. It’s teaching without giving the answers. In the long run, you have employees/colleagues that have learned how to think, how to solve problems, and how to empower themselves. This approach not only reduces the amount of time spent dealing with employee and colleague issues, it increases productivity, time to think about your own work, and innovative thinking within an organization.
Here’s how it plays out…
An employee or colleague comes to you for an answer — “What’s the process for shipping this product?” More often than not, we answer the question. Look in this folder, go to this document, it’s begins with checking the serial number… etc. But what if we simply shifted and asked, “Where might you have access to that information?” Or, my personal favorite, “What do you think it might be?” (Note: tone matters with that question. That can be a great coaching question, or it can be construed as condescending and snarky). By asking the question, the invitation to think shifts the whole paradigm. It might be off-putting at first, and you may get some funny looks, but the whole dynamic of the conversation shifts to something more connected and meaningful for both. You transform into teacher, and they transform into thinkers.
Having the right questions.
These questions don’t need to be profound. It’s not about asking the perfect question, it’s about asking a question at all. Here’s some things to think about when attempting this approach to leadership:
In my 15+ years of working with leaders in all industries, the greatest leaders have an ability and desire to ask questions and pull great thinking and engagement out of others. It has never been the case where the leader knew everything and only had answers. That mindset leads the other direction — not to greatness, but — to disengagement, burnout, and spinning wheels.
A challenge we can all take on is seeking more opportunities to ask questions, to invite others into thinking. Find a colleague that asks you questions all the time, and try the method. You won’t only change the dynamic and empower them, but you might just learn something valuable about yourself along the way.
This was originally posted to Medium.