How many people do you know? When we consider all of our online connections and people we have met over the years in our careers, social engagements and events, each of us probably has a network of thousands of people. Of course, there are close, trusted friends and family members as well as our work teams that we interact with on a daily basis. But many of us underestimate our own reach when we consider the sheer size of our networks.
But do those peripheral connections really matter? How can one person actually connect on an authentic basis with so many others? Think about your brand and the message you send online and in person. Are you a leader who welcomes new people into your circle, or do you default to an attitude of exclusivity? No one expects that each of us has time and energy to drop everything and give substantial resources to developing a deep connection with each new contact that comes into our mutual orbit. However, adjusting our attitudes about embracing new human beings that we come into contact with can help us cultivate an assumption of openness to new ideas and people that can enrich our lives and work in countless ways and, yes, bring us more career success in the process:
· Curiosity. Are we genuinely curious about the interests, work and lives of others? Or are we too busy with our day to day tasks to generate passion about the world and infinite opportunities to learn and grow? Thinking about the “why” in everyday issues can help us find genuine, authentic connections with others.
· Shedding Labels. Today’s Coordinator is tomorrow’s Manager. Or today’s Instagram trend-setter and soon-to-be entrepreneurial sensation. Or community organizer and world changer. Or all of the above! Stop making assumptions about who people are from their job titles. We all have immense value to one another and I am often greatly inspired by and humbled to be in mentoring relationships with early career professionals who teach and coach me as I do the same for them.
· Extending our Reach. Think about writing, posting your ideas on social platforms, engaging with others and creating your own opportunities to collaborate outside of your typical channels. One of my most treasured platforms is a Slack channel I created with several pros I have met over the past few years, where we can freely collaborate, tackle difficult problems, and support one another. It’s allowed us to take tenuous connections across social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to a new level that allows for on-demand deeper discussions without taking a lot of time or energy, but that are surprisingly timely and rewarding. My dear friend Wendy Dailey and I not only chat on Slack, but we also text and talk, and keep in touch on social. We have grown our originally Twitter-ignited relationship to many in-person adventures too.
· Diving in to our Groups. Are you a member of any professional groups? They provide boundless opportunities not only to meet new people with shared interests, but also to exercise your leadership muscles and develop new skills you never knew you could excel in, and new passions that deepen the reward of your work. For instance, I am a member of the American Bar Association and my state and local bar associations, as well as the Disability Management Employers Coalition and the Colorado ILG-these organizations provide opportunities for connections, and also deep and timely updates and analysis of important issues I care about. I am also president of my local HR management chapter, the Boulder Area HR Association. My groups provide opportunities to stay on top of the areas of work I love (particularly, employment law, disability accommodation, and strategic human resource management) and also to meet, connect with and develop relationships with amazing people who offer me new perspectives, support, informal coaching, and opportunities to take on new challenges. I endeavor to do the same for them-and we all have a lot of fun in the process.
· Body Language. When you meet new people in person, do you open your stance (and even your arms)? Do you catch yourself in small, closed groups of connections you already know well, hiding out in your introversion instead and forming a closed circle that tells outsiders to stay away? Networking is more naturally comfortable for some of us than it is for others. Instead of falling back on old habits, be mindful and plan your networking so you can be open, grow your ability to connect with others, and challenge yourself in the process. Alyce Blum, a wonderful colleague of mine, teaches others to do this and I highly recommend her to anyone who needs coaching and support.
· Generosity. In networking, as in work and life, it feels great to be generous with our resources. I look to my friend, Steve Browne, as a wonderful example of this. Steve not only connects with and celebrates everyone, he also encourages (and even sometimes admonishes) us all to connect with one another. He not only coaches and pays forward a stunning energy of leadership and connection, he also generates this energy, that emanates throughout his network and back to him again. It’s a heavy lift but you can see how it genuinely feeds his passion about his work.
What can we achieve together as we grow our connections? The sky is the limit. Alone, I am an attorney and HR professional. Together with my network, I can be an expansive and creative thinker, inspired to do my best work that will have positive ripple effects throughout my community, my profession, and the larger world. For example, this year, my Boulder Area HR Association colleagues and I doubled our reach with an expanded conference that brought in Nancy Lyons of Clockwork, a truly inspirational and innovative leader, as our keynote. We offered not only HR benefits and legal content, but also a track for innovation in HR, populated with speakers who shared new ways of thinking and approaching problems and barriers in HR. How many leaders were inspired and brought fresh thinking and ideas back to their work teams from just that one event? I’m proud to say that’s my network at work.
What heights can you reach with your network? Share your successes and ideas!
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