Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Steeltown should do some serious networking with the City of Brotherly Love.
Back in 2005, a community affairs group called Leadership Philadelphia hired social networking guru Karen Stephenson. Leadership Philadelphia was looking to recruit a team of well-connected citizens to quarterback neighbourhood renewal projects and bring civic engagement back from the dead.
At the time, folks in Philadelphia weren’t feeling much brotherly love.
There was little trust or collaboration among leaders from the worlds of business, government, nonprofits and academia. Competing agendas and narrow self-interest meant much-needed city-wide initiatives weren’t getting traction. The economy was stagnating. The sense of fragmentation and malaise was pervasive and demoralizing.
Stephenson and her consulting firm initiated the search for well-connected and respected Philadelphians with deep and broad personal networks. They publicly and privately asked who had a reputation around town for innovative, big-picture thinking. Who had the integrity, concern for the common good and the guts to get the job done? Who could be counted on to bring people, resources and organizations together?
From an initial cut of 4,800 nominees, the consultants came up with a shortlist of 101 key connectors. Just one person from that group also showed up on the 100 Most Powerful People in Philadelphia list of CEOs, presidents, executive directors, politicians and the other usual suspects who, in any community, are forever getting recruited to champion and steer local projects. The consultants then brought together these unfamiliar names and unsung heroes, plugged them into a mentorship program and served up specialized leadership training.
At the same time, a new high school leadership curriculum was launched to identify and coach the next generation of key connectors.
Networking isn’t just good for communities. It’s a smart career move, says Michael Dulworth, author and president of an executive networking organization. "As you connect personally with more and more carefully chosen people, you increase your ability to advance your career, enhance your personal life and accomplish things you may have thought were impossible," says Dulworth. "An effective network can make you more knowledgeable and better grounded, as well as a more agile learner and a better collaborator."
Trouble is, most of us are lousy networkers. Watch what happens at your next business luncheon or awards gala. The introverts will make a beeline for their table and won’t extricate themselves until the show’s over. Other folks will huddle in the corner with co-workers and continue the same conversations they have all day every day. The insular and isolated senior execs will surround themselves by their entourages of yes boys and girls. And then there will be the extroverted social butterflies who’ll try to set world speed records for the trading and collecting of the most business cards and email addresses.
Don’t despair, says Dulworth, who admits to being an introvert.
"Becoming a better networker is not rocket science, but it does require some different behaviours and actions than most people exhibit or practise."
So what to practise? First, find common interests. This is why most of us ask: What do you do? How long have you been doing that for? What are you interested in? What are you hoping to do?
Have a real conversation that goes beyond exchanging business cards and commenting on the weather or the Leafs. Instead of working the whole room, aim for three or four substantive conversations at your next social event.
Stay in touch with your network and connect face-to-face at least once or twice a year. An annual broadcast e-mail isn’t going to build a relationship.
Aim to build a diverse network. Connect with people who aren’t carbon copies of you.
"As the world grows ever more complicated, you can be blindsided by events or miss opportunities if you don’t have access to people who know what you don’t, see the world differently and pay attention to different things," says Dulworth. "A narrow focus can be dangerous."
And above all else, give back or give first. What can you do that will help someone in your network without any expectation of a favour in return?
According to Dulworth, effective networking comes down to building relationships through connecting with the right people and having the right conversations at the right time.
Dulworth offers a rundown of peer-to-peer and organizational networks, communities of practice and virtual networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. He also highly recommends tapping your network to recruit a personal board of directors who can serve as a sounding board and offer straight-up guidance and hard-won wisdom.
"The power of networking is undeniable," says Dulworth. "Throughout history, networks have changed the world. If you want to change the world, or just your life, you can do it with a network."