Uplevel your Networking Skills to Connecting — Becoming a ConnectorIvy Dreyer-Goldman
“The most important things you make in life are the connections you make with others.” – Tom Ford
Building relationships in business is the most important skill we can develop to get things done, but how can we do it better? How can we enjoy it more? Some people have an innate ability to build connections with others. I never knew that I was one of them until a boss of mine referred to me as a “connector”. Later I learned Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point coined the term ‘Connectors’. According to Margot Andersen, “[He] describes them as those handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They can span many different worlds, subcultures, and niches. Traits common to connectors are energy, insatiable curiosity, and a willingness to take chances – as well as an absolute insistence that connecting is not the same as networking. Whereas networking is often viewed to an end, connecting is driven by a genuine interest in people and purposeful engagement to better support and assist others.”
When I was a young manager working for a regional vice president, she happened to mention to me that she was looking for a mature Meyers lemon tree for her backyard. I lived in an area that had a lot of nurseries with very large, mature trees many of which were fruit trees. I picked up the phone and called a couple of the nurseries; I was able to find a well-developed Meyers lemon tree. I sent her a text and let her know that they had a tree available. She was completely shocked that I had taken the time on a weekend. But that was just who I was — she had a need, and I was helping to fulfill it. Looking back on it, my gesture surely helped to authentically build my relationship with her. But it wasn’t something I was doing to get ahead or make myself look good, I genuinely wanted to help her.
Throughout my career, I spent a great deal of time getting to know coworkers and colleagues within the organizations in which I worked. I was genuinely curious about people and enjoyed meeting with them one to one. I was on the road a lot, so I scheduled dinners and got to know about the people I worked with. I learned about their families, their partners, their children, their pets, their favorite sports teams, what they liked, what they didn’t like, what car they drove, what their world view was, you name it I got to know it. And what I found was that I developed trust with each of them – fast. I also had great food and drinks and a lot of fun. But most importantly, it helped me develop allies and alliances. I didn’t just have dinners, I would schedule lunches when time permitted, short meetings, or early morning coffee. I extended my reach far beyond executives like me. I reached out to anyone that I found interesting and influential in the organization, from Administrative Assistants to Senior Vice Presidents.
Being a connector, it turned out, helped me secure funding for projects that I was passionate about. I developed an initiative that required $5,000,000 in funding to launch and deliver. I was a division VP at the time; my President sponsored the initiative. The money would come from a limited nationwide corporate pool. To access the funds, I had to present to this Fortune 50 company’s ‘number two’, and I needed to make sure that he was aware of the initiative prior to giving the pitch. I had to have the support of our key medical director and my colleagues. I picked up the phone and made some calls. I literally asked for “support” of my project. I had never been in politics and never really thought about it until later — that what I was doing was politicking. I believed in what I was doing and that it would help the people we were serving by improving their health outcomes. I also realized later that all those dinners I had had and the emails or cards I sent with thank yous or other salutations, all of which were very authentic, had probably helped develop trust. And, that trust extended to what I believed in terms of what was a good spend for the organization. The project was funded.
Companies are microcosms that have cultures and belief systems. Because of that, it’s important to get to know people within those communities and build connections with them. Getting visibility at the executive level does take knowing the right people, and it takes having the right advocates in your corner. Getting to know colleagues and coworkers in an authentic way and building trust is the best way to build alliances around you. How do we build authentic relationships? By finding commonalities. I have rarely met a person with whom I didn’t have something in common. I think that’s probably the case for you too. Those connections and our relatability can work for us when we need support for big investments or allocations.
Connecting works. And it is critical for the support of your projects, your business, and your career. Having a wide network of people to draw upon means you can make things happen quickly and gain rapid support when you need it. With the support of connections, you are better equipped to take an idea and make it actionable, because you can get the right people behind it to get traction and move it through to the finish line. Making connections is about building harnessing commonalities and supporting causes that we and others believe in. Are some of those causes monetary at times? Yes. But that’s what business is about. The kind of business we work for is up to us. There are lots of articles on ways to network. There are long books on how to network. I think it’s simple, whether you are an executive, a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or just starting your career: Finding ways to get to know people, being authentic, and supporting each other’s causes is connecting. Here are a few tips to help you do it well:
- Be curious – its Connection factor #1
- Break bread – Connecting is always better over a meal. It’s more intimate and relaxing. People tend to remember meals too.
- Scrap Networking – Unlike networking, deeper connections versus more connections are better. Think about your level of interest in the person and how you both can be connectors for each other in the future.
- Ask – Is there anything I can do for you?
- Share – your knowledge, ideas, and connections.
- Find out something memorable that you can follow up on later if you are authentically moved to – a birthday, a favorite place, a hobby. Follow up with a thanks, always.