Networking is one of those words that inspires strong reactions. Most words that are perceived as business jargon get that reaction.
It also doesn’t help that there are a lot of myths about how networking is best done. I’ve seen posts about people claiming to know networking “gurus” who work a long and information filled spreadsheet while also seeing notes from others who refuse to network (in the traditional sense at least) and are successful anyway.
To understand how to do something, we must understand what it means, why it matters and what the basic principles that govern it are.
What it means: Networking is building and nurturing professional relationships.
Why it matters: As with our personal lives, building and nurturing meaningful professional relationships helps both our career advancement and our happiness. Our network helps advance our careers and businesses as we can call on favors or help at crucial times. And, they help our happiness because, well, we are human.
Principles: Your network is directly proportional to your net worth. And, your net worth is a combination of two things – your financial net worth and your character net worth. Let’s break these down.
Financial net worth: This is a reflection of how wealthy you are. There are very few billionaires who have difficulty calling for professional favors.
Character net worth: This is a reflection of your character. Think about people at work and in your community who are held in great respect by a lot of people. These folks can call on a network simply because of the value they’ve added to others’ lives by being good people. I think the sign of a good character is the presence of integrity. Integrity comes from the latin word “integer” which means whole. Stephen Covey defined it as the ability to make and keep commitments. The beauty about folks who make and keep commits is that they walk their talk and talk their walk. As a result, they are consistent and whole. And, that consistency over time builds the sort of trust that brings people together.
Breaking these down leads to a couple of interesting questions. For instance, are these correlated? Does character net worth typically bring financial net worth? If I had to hazard a guess based on what I have observed, I’d say the correlation is loose.
Second, is one better than the other? Albert Einstein famously said – “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” But, I don’t think there’s a right answer here. It depends on what matters to you.
How to: Once you understand the principles that drive something, it is easy to figure out what you need to do. In this case, there are 2 ways you can go about building professional networks –
Become wealthy. Assuming you’re focused on legal ways, either build skills that are valuable or build an organization that solves a problem for a large number of people.
Become a person of character. If you consistently give before you get and earn trust, a network is just a natural outcome.
My synthesis is that networking is not something you need to do because a network is a natural outcome of what you do and who you are. If you can simply be focused on becoming and being the best version of yourself, a network will follow.
The best networks are not pursued, they ensue.