If I have an Achilles Heel, it’s the fine art of networking. I’ve never been very good at it. It plays to my deepest insecurity: rejection.
You can give me a topic, 10 minutes of prep, an audience of 100 people, and I’ll be fine. I read once that Henry Fonda used to vomit before going on stage even after decades as an established master of his craft. Even if he didn’t literally vomit, the point is made: the act still got to him. It gets to me, too, and I have had to obscure a hand or knee that won’t stop shaking. Still, I can do it and do it fairly well.
Me, an idea, a stage, and 200 people. Would you believe that I can pull it off because of the anonymity of it? It’s true. When it’s you against 200, you can get lost in the crowd. If somebody looks disinterested, look at somebody who doesn’t. Find enough of them, and you can fool yourself into thinking you’re in a coliseum filled with raving fans. When you look at it that way, rejection doesn’t matter. You just ignore it and focus on the ones who “get” you.
Now, if you put me in a room with 200 people, tell me the topic a month in advance, and give me access to all the research I need…BUT you also take away the stage and take away the authority that is inherent in being the one holding the microphone, then you’ll get a totally different result. You’ll probably get a totally different me. You’ll get the me that has to face rejection 200 times. You’ll get the me that will anticipate rejection 200 times. Oddly, I don’t have the past experiences to justify such an outlook. I can’t recall ever being rejected 200 times in one evening. That doesn’t change the fact that being thrust into this kind of one-on-one situations will almost always kick off the tape that plays in my subconscious that drives me to believe that I will, once again, be rejected.
And yet, just a few days ago, someone I haven’t seen in 8 or 9 years, sent me a note just for the heck of it. We’ve kept in contact over the years, and, about every 6 months or so, something clicks in the Universe that causes one of us to reach out to the other. It’s almost like clockwork. It’s effortless. It’s genuine.
Building a network is probably the single-most important thing any worker in the 21st Century can do. Throw out the idea of the cocktail party schmoozer. Throw out the idea of the business-card-pushing conference enthusiast who can only waste precisely 240 seconds of their time on you because somebody much more important than you just walked in the door. That is not the network-building that I’m talking about. The networks we need today are the ones based in mutual respect. They are built on the common understanding that comes from a genuine meeting of the minds. They are fueled by generosity and kindness. They are reciprocal because of a desire to help the other, not out of obligation. They are connections that allow gifts to be exchanged, not favors tallied up.
You can’t build a network, though, on casual Facebook shout-outs alone. The strength of the connections you make is increased with the frequency and intensity of interaction. Your network (and you do already have one) has layers, and each layer serves a purpose in your life. There’s no set description or hierarchy for the layers of your network. I mean, I am sure somebody somewhere has written a book or published a whitepaper, but, in the end, the definition of each layer, the hierarchy among them, and the purpose of each is something we determine individually. The act of determining these things is just that: an act. It is something that you must consciously do. If you don’t, circumstance will make the choices for you, and you might not always be happy with the result.
Your network is too important to your happiness and fulfillment as a human being to be left to chance and to your “unconsciousness.” There’s a name for that unconscious being: Tolle calls it “Pain Body;” Godin calls it “Lizard Brain;” Pressfield calls it “Resistance.” Call it what you like. The fact of that matter is that the unconscious entity that lives inside of you is the same one that keeps playing that rejection tape for me. You know, the one that makes me relive some ancient rejection that takes everything in me to forget. It’s doubt and fear and loathing and embarrassment and 1000 other acts of self-sabotage all wrapped up into a sinister package that gnaws at the base of your brain all day long. And that thing isn’t going to take care of your network. Only you can.
So be deliberate. Determine the hierarchies for yourself. Describe them in your own words. Consciously place the people you already know into each. Figure out what is important to you and how you want each person to fit into your life. Forget how they do today. Chances are that you are giving far too much power to some people and neglecting a bunch of other people to whom you would much rather dedicate your time and energy. Fix your network.
Only after your network is fixed can you go be the linchpin, the Great Connector, that you are meant to be. Once you fix your network, you can serve it and its members better. Once you fix your network, you will realize that yours is just a small part of a much bigger, much more powerful network and that we are all servants of the same human collective.
I am privileged to call him Friend.
Read more from Ric at woowooleadership.com
For more on this 21st Century Leadership Skill … Skill 4