You can’t do it alone

I closed last month’s column on great leaders needing great followers with a comment about the importance of developing your own network of people whose judgment and discretion you can rely on. Let’s expand that thought.

The reason why you should develop your own network is very simple: because it is crucial to your success. You cannot do it alone, nor should you try. Nearly every successful person I know has other people — a network —they freely acknowledge contributes to their success.

I just returned from the Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting where networking has long been recognized as one of its prime attractions. ACC members return year after year for the education and the opportunity to interact with their in-house peers. The more than 100 programs even included a session on managing your career. Among other things, ACC president Veta Richardson noted that “networking skills can be taught and you can practise those skills.”

I offer a few simple suggestions about networking I have learned over the years:

•    Be a good listener: People like to be around and value those who listen. Most folks do not like a “know it all” and those who always dominate a conversation. Also, you will not learn very much if your mouth is always open. If it is “all about me” your network will likely be very limited.

•    Have an elevator speech: This is especially important if you are inexperienced or meeting someone for the first time. Prepare what you want to say or ask, and be concise and to the point.

•    Practise: Like the previous tip, this can be especially valuable if you are inexperienced or shy. Identify a topic and practise beforehand.

•    Ask: Sometimes all you need to do is reach out to someone and ask the question. You will be surprised how many people are willing to help others, especially when approached the right way.

•    Say thank you: Everyone likes to be appreciated and recognized. If someone helps you or even spends time with you, say thank you. Depending on the circumstances this may be done publicly or privately. Either way, it is a simple gesture that is always well received but frequently forgotten.

•    Know how to respond to a compliment: When you receive a “shout out” the best response generally is to acknowledge others who helped and say thank you or you are welcome.

•    Give, don’t just take: This is another way of saying, “be helpful.” I remember those who have helped me and will gladly return the favour if I can. If you always seek favours your network will shrink.

Personally, I can cite numerous examples of how I have been helped over the years. My network has:

•    Answered questions: I frequently reached out to peers and ACC members to get advice on how to solve a problem, start a new program, find outside counsel, or simply where to begin when something new came across my desk.

•    Served as a sounding board: Sometimes I need to think out loud and having someone outside the office with a fresh perspective can be invaluable.

•    Mentored me: I am truly fortunate in that I had several ACC leaders who took the time and effort to provide me with wise counsel and advice long after they left office. It is always helpful to have someone who is vested in your success.

•    Kept me informed and up to date: I cannot come close to counting the number of times I learned something from a conversation or note that helped me create the impression that I was well-informed.

•    Provided exposure: Attending conferences and being seen frequently led to opportunities that enabled me to advance ACC’s agenda.

•    Offered support in tough times: Like everyone else, I have had to deal with some bumps in the road. Whether professional career challenges or personal health issues, I received support frequently from unexpected places that helped me to carry on.

•    Told me about job opportunities: I have been an in-house lawyer, private practitioner, lobbyist for a business organization, and, until last year, president of ACC. In every instance, my network played a crucial role in learning about the job opportunity. Indeed, I likely would not have become president of ACC but for a friend telling me about the opening and urging me to apply.

•    Given me an opportunity to repay those who have helped me: What goes around comes around. The satisfaction gleaned from helping another coming along in our profession is reason enough to work actively at networking and remaining in touch with colleagues new and old.

As I said, you cannot do it alone — and it is foolish to try.

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