Career Toolbox: Part 4 "Building A Rich Professional Network"

No matter the industry, 2020 has served us all up quite a curve ball. It's changed how and where we work. For many of us, it's changed who we work with or for. Contracts aren't being renewed and there have been mandatory furloughs. The contraction in many industries facing disruption has been accelerated. Positions have been eliminated.

A while back I was a guest on Sandy Waters' podcast 'Seven Figures' where I had an opportunity to talk about how to build a timeless career. The theme was basically that your career toolbox is more important than your bank account because the balance in your account is dependent upon your ability to leverage your toolbox. Regardless of recession, depression, inflation, deflation, those professionals with a strong set of tools will prevail.

Your career toolbox has four distinct sets of tools in it:

Experience. This is your academic and professional pedigree. It's the combination of the two and they can supplement each other. On job experience has a tendency to be better leveraged than sitting in a classroom chair but it's highly dependent upon profession.

Skill Set and Competencies. What is it that sets you apart from others in the same industry and position. This is what differentiates you from others. In it's simplest form, it's what you are known for from other people.

Your Brand. This is the combination of the above when it's brought to life. It's image, perception, recognition, and presentation. For my multimedia friends, this is your Reel, Resume, LinkedIn profile, and your social media channels on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter. In essence, this is your public face.

The final set of tools in your Network. I define our networks as "the sum of our personal and professional relationships in terms of reach and reliability to recognize and perpetuate our brand". It's the convergence of Quantity and Quality. They are not mutually exclusive when it comes to an effective network.

Turning back to this chapters' topic: "Creating Rich Professional Networks".

I believe some of the greatest career missteps are a result of successfully executing a great portfolio but poor execution of building and leveraging our network in the right way but first, I'd like to cover the two ways people generally approach building a network and I'm betting that one way is way more familiar to you than the other.

Network One: Transaction Driven

The two most familiar networking approaches are usually transactional and based upon some form of reciprocity. That is people search out and connect with people of influence, power, or position that can further your career. However, at the extreme it can become about taking not giving, it's about what can your network do for you. Some literally approach this as a one way street. You coach me, you mentor me, you introduce me to opportunities. While you read this, most of us will have a picture in our head of someone who epitomizes this approach.

What is more common is the concept of reciprocity as applied to connecting. You do something for me and I'll do something for you. This becomes taking and giving relationship. In the simplest form professional approach this like a barter system, constantly negotiating and positioning. The entertainment and media business is notorious for this barter system, and not in a good way. Even more dubious is organized crime, especially around drug and sex trafficking.

Network Two: Mission Driven

Create personal and professional relationships without future expectations of reciprocity. These are the people that immediately jump into the fire without questions or expectations. These networks are built from giving not taking. Not only not taking, but no expectations attached to any type of return. I love the story of Kat Cole from Adam Grant's 'WorkLife' podcast on the topic of networking.

Kat Cole chose to build relationships by helping people solve problems. Her approach was to create rich relationships by diving into other's challenges and getting shoulder to shoulder. I encourage you to listen to her story here: WorkLife with Adam Grant: Networking for people who hate networking

Ok, to the lessons learned in this chapter regarding networking, specifically the expectations we should have about our professional network and some ideas about nurturing relationships. In the end, we can have built a great portfolio but it's the quality of those relationships that matter.

Lesson One: Heart of a Servant

Both early and late career professionals can build 'giving not taking' networks. Many times I hear from junior associates "I don't have enough experience or connections to give". To that I'll say "Kat Cole" from the podcast above or even closer to home for me, "Shannon Campbell" from the TalentBlvd Team. Shannon pings me once a week checking in to see how she can help - admin work, social media posts, photoshop images, website development, demo reel edits, etc. More people need to approach networking like Kat and Shannon.

Lesson Two: Networks are Fluid

The professionals in your network are facing constant change. People make bad decisions, face personal challenges we might know nothing about. We must be able to grant grace where it's appropriate. I can't even count the number of social media faux pas professionals in my network have had. In my world, I try to distinguish between bad judgement, being intuitionally tone deaf, or trying to further one's position at the expense of others.

Lesson Three: Social Media Networks are not Real

The term 'virtual' is applied to our social media networks for a reason. I'm blown away at times by notion that our Facebook or Instagram friends have some never ending binding contract to serve each other, forever. Listen, these relationships are established by one party embellishing reality to the point it creates comparison that increases the desirability of a perceived relationship by others. Sometimes when we pull back that curtain of heavily filtered images the virtual reality doesn't align. Comparison is the thief of joy, period.

Lesson Four: Mission should Align

Networks that are based solely on the exchange of financial rewards are doomed from the beginning. Healthy networks have some form of common values and goals that aren't economically based. I look at the TalentBlvd team, and I'm referring to advisors, coaches and clients, we embrace service over money/income. That's why we were brought together and why we stay together. We believe we will receive rewards from service and that will sustain us both spiritually and financially.

Lesson Five: Nurture not Nature

Takers will eventually fatigue their givers in their networks. Nature doesn't create some hierarchy based upon age, experience, gender, race, etc that determines who are the givers and who are the takers. I have hundreds of young professionals that I mentor in my network. Every mentee I've ever had has heard me say the reason I invest so heavily in them is that I'm developing my boss someday. The richest relationships are those that are nurtured by both mentor and mentee. As much as I try to live a 'givers' life, I become fatigued by relationships that only show up when a mentee needs something from me.

Lesson Six: Diversity Matters

If you've been confined in a homogeneous environment you'll need to get comfortable being uncomfortable outside of those artificial boundaries. The frames in your life and career will be established by how far you stretch. Diversity of thought (politic, religion, economic), gender, race, orientation, age, etc will increase the value of your network and every other network you are a member of. You will make better decisions, reach larger audiences, and increase the trajectory of your career.

Lesson Seven: Think Forward

Building a network that is both deep and wide is critical to your future success. The first inclination to building your network is to go back and connect with professionals in your past and that's a great place to start. Networks are series of connections, like a decision tree. Leveraging your base is the most effective way to grow a deep network but you should also think about casting a wider net. Try this, using LinkedIn as your base connect with 2-3 professional every week in an industry or association you have an interest in exploring.

DO NOT send an invite asking to connect because you have mutual connections. DO explain that you have an interest in learning more about their industry or profession as an opportunity to grow. People naturally want to be helpful and when asked in the right way, they will generally make an effort to connect and share.

The Important Takeaways:

  • We all have something to give in our professional networks. Regardless of experience or education, anyone can create a 'giving' network.

  • Social Media relationships are virtual, not real professional networks. If managed right, these virtual relationships can open doors to real networks.

  • Mission alignment can be critical and relationships based solely on economic returns are not sustainable.

  • Change is inevitable, networks are not static. Be cognizant of the changes in the 'givers' lives in your network. Nurture them.

  • Diversity opens worlds of opportunity and enriches everything in your network and the other networks to which you belong

About Mike McNamara:

Mike has held C-Suite, Executive and Senior Sales, Marketing, Business Development, and General Management roles with Equifax, Cox Enterprises, WW Grainger, and Federal-Mogul Corporation. Mike has led sales, service and operations organizations of over 1,500 associates and accountable for P&L responsibility in excess of $500M.

Dedicated to giving back, Mike formed The MBAR Group in 2009 with the sole intent of providing pro bono career and business consulting services to the underprivileged and underserved.

Today as founder and CEO of TalentBlvd, he coaches a number of high profile business and media personalities as well as holding advisory board positions guiding a number of multimedia and small business startups.>

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