“Networking.” Even the word me gives me heebie-jeebies. And, as many of my friends know, I have a strong aversion to professional networking groups or events.
So, how do I so regularly expand my network and why do I dislike what others consider vital to their careers?
Let’s start with why I’m so allergic to regular networking. Luckily, it’s for a straightforward reason illustrated by a simple story. Hang tight with me; this one will only take a moment…
Endless Stories of Professional Networking
Several years ago, a friend of mine sent out an email of request to their network. Nothing major, other than a basic, mutually beneficial request. Now, this particular person was known for their extensive professional networking. Networking is in their blood. And their circle was filled with people from every level of the professional world, public and private. Executives, politicians, small business owners, big business owners. You name it. These are the people that talk a big game about everything they do at their orgs and in their communities.
How many people replied back to that email?
Two. And neither followed through with the request. What the hell good is that?
Well, this person is sometimes invited to the big private events. And they get to post a photo or two from those events on their social media. So, I guess there’s that?
But when push comes to shove, this person doesn’t legitimately have a network. Instead, what they have is little more than mist and vapor. They certainly know a lot of people, as do many of the professionals and executives I know.
And that is by far not the only story I have like that one. Some are trivial; some are more significant. Now, in fairness, wrangling people and asking for favors takes a certain talent. But I was always surprised when I started networking in professional and executive circles how boring, stupid, and downright unreliable many of these people are.
Put more bluntly…
Most Professionals are Grifters
From my experience, even at the highest levels of networking, the majority of people have little to offer. For the most part, many professionals and executives…
- Lack any sense of loyalty or intend to be reliable to anyone or anything
- Act confident but greatly fear being transparent and open
- Entertain all sorts of outright manipulations from creative accounting to ulterior motives
- Have no real connections to their communities or their clients and customers
- Don’t intend to build relationships of mutual benefit to anyone
- Are truly limited in their experiences and knowledge, even in their own field
Networking with these people is little more than engaging with these shortcomings. And wasting your time. Can you imagine relying on one of those people to truly have your back when you need them most?
Contrary to popular belief, most people aren’t worth knowing, let alone talking to on a regular basis. No matter how hard you might try, you’ll likely never turn these people into allies. And it’s not hard to figure out why I would say this…
A broad, shallow network is all but about worthless, both in a professional sense but also in the sense of personal fulfillment. And that’s about all most professional and executive networks amount to.
Questions to Help Elevate Your Networking and Your Network
Although many articles extol the virtues of professional networking, I advise a different approach for talented people. After all, if you’re talented, you shouldn’t waste your energy with what I’ve described above. Instead, ditch broad and shallow, and consider deep and meaningful.
What I mean by this, and the bottom-line for the tips below, is that you should be forging relationships with potential allies. Put another way, you should be growing connections with other talented individuals, not grifters on LinkedIn or at that networking event. Now, that’s not to say knowing lots of people and being on speaking terms with them isn’t good. It’s definitely a positive.
But what good is your network and what good are you to your network, if it’s not filled with strong relationships. And these questions, which I use myself, can help you shift to a better direction and build a stronger network. For talented individuals, safeguarding the quality for your network is paramount for taking those talents further.
- Who does your connection spend most of their time with?
It’s a truism that you’re largely influenced by the five people you spend most of your time with. So, why not take this maxim and use it as a tool to enhance your network? When you meet someone, take time to see who they surround themselves with and why.
Result: Quickly seize up where your potential connection is headed
- What organizations are they associated with and what do those organizations support?
We all have organizations we have to interact with somewhat regularly. But the ones you devote considerable energy to are likely to be the ones most closely aligned with your beliefs. Does your potential connection give to a cause that’s mired in scandal? Or that flips with the new flavor of the week? Or promotes the wackiest of activism? Ask what draws your connection to these.
Result: Go beyond words to discover a potential connection’s view of what’s important in our society and to them.
- What is the difference between their professed values and their values-in-practice?
Professionals and executives talk a big game, and they also like to give off a certain perception of themselves. Uncovering the differences between who they wish they were and who they really are can be instructive. You’ll often be surprised at the difference when you cut through the noise.
Result: Gauge how full of shit someone is before letting them into your network.
- What are silly sites like LinkedIn really doing for you? And when was the last time someone in your networked contacted you on a more substantive level?
Some people swear by social media, but it’s mostly useless. Just like boomers have “Facebook friends” who are nothing more than acquaintances, sites like LinkedIn encourage the same with professionals. Consider what these sites have really done for your network over the years.
Of course, when you’re in a world of grifters, you also have to assess who’s actually invested in you, as a talented person, or the goals and causes most important to you. Nothing says you can’t still network extensively through texting, reading the blogs of others who you respect, etc. These are strong avenues. But be mindful of who’s putting in any effort to know you.
Result: Prune away dead avenues of professional networking, where the only goal is to rack up names and manage your perception, instead of accomplishing anything. Cut loose people who don’t put forward much energy regarding your work.
- Which networking groups and events have you found allies at?
For a considerable time, I’ve had a hard-fast rule: if after a year, I haven’t found a single long-term ally at a networking group… I never return. Why would I? The same holds true for conferences and events.
Result: You’ll waste far less time hoping that you’ll meet someone of like-mind. And that time can be spent seeking them out elsewhere. Your talent and your time is valuable, so treat it as such.
- What do your professional network connections know about you?
Taking our #4 a bit further, it’s always baffled me how professionals and executives seemingly know nothing about each other. Literally nothing. Granted, it can be difficult to keep track of all the people you meet along your journey. But if someone doesn’t care enough to know what field you’re in, let alone what you stand for… your talent will never be recognized with these people.
Result: You can nurture your network all you like, but if it’s filled with people like this, you’ll simply be wasting your time with them. This question helps you find out if that’s the case without much fuss.
- How ruthless are you about the value of your network?
And to put a point on this article, our final question underscores how many talented, brilliant people waste networking with grifters. When you discover a professional has trouble doing what they said they were going to do, what do you do? What about when learn an executive has a selfish ulterior agenda for your relationship?
I recommend cutting the cord without a second thought.
Result: No matter who someone is or how valuable you think the connection is, you should never waste your time with people who don’t value you or your talent.