Are you tired of the networking articles that tell you that you have to connect with the rich and powerful to get value from your network? Does it seem completely inauthentic and skeevy? Do you use it as just another reason why you shouldn’t waste time building your network?
I call this the American Idol approach to networking. It makes it seem like the only way you can be successful is if you can get the “Simon” in your field to like you.
The idea that networking is about meeting powerful people and befriending them is not only incorrect, it’s harmful to careers. It keeps people from starting and cultivating the real relationships that drive career growth and success.
How You Define Networking Defines Your Success
What is a network? Is it:
A) The famous and powerful people you know who will do you favors to advance your career.
B) A web of interconnected people around you who are focused on creating mutually beneficial relationships so that everyone can grow and prosper.
I’m going to suggest that the answer is B, no matter the experts who seem to think your networking should be all about connecting with “important” contacts.
So many people (maybe even you) hate networking because they have this image foisted upon them by authors and speakers that say they “should fake it until they make it”. They should pretend to be a mover and shaker so they can meet the influential people that are going to catapult their careers to the next level.
And then, because this feels dirty and inauthentic and is almost completely ineffective, people stop putting any effort into building a vibrant network.
And then their career growth suffers.
I don’t want that to happen to you.
Influencers Aren’t Waiting to Make You Successful
Here’s what you have to realize: Influential people aren’t waiting around to make new friends that they can propel to success. They are usually very busy doing the things that made them influential in the first place. Their networks are already full, and so are their calendars. So breaking into either of these is really hard. Especially when you might not have much to offer them in return.
But this is OK. We have to understand that there isn’t a magic gatekeeper who holds the magic key to our success. We think that all we need to be successful is access and exposure at the highest level. So the logical progression from this thought is that we need to to find influencers that already have that access and exposure and just glom on to them.
But that doesn’t work. Firstly, as we mentioned, these are hard connections to establish. The prominent people in your field already have a lot of people clamoring for their attention and it’s hard to break through.
Secondly, though, that’s just not how you get successful. We need to break out of this “American Idol” approach to life and business. To think that there is one person who holds the keys to your career success, and that all you need to do is make them like you, is simplistic and incorrect.
We like it, though, because we’ve heard a story of someone who made friends with a powerful person and they were off to the races. But we don’t know any of the other backstory (usually way more complicated), and it sounds a lot faster and easier than putting the work in, day-in and day-out.
Even worse, there are well-known figures in many industries who market their influence and make it seem like they have the secret and they’re willing to be your friend…all you need to do to be in their club is pay them. (This is the dark side of affiliate marketing).
Instead of taking moonshots and only approaching the most powerful people that you can find, how about connecting with a much broader group of people? There’s nothing wrong with trying to “punch up a few weight classes”. But if you just started a consulting firm, maybe trying to network with the CEOs of the Fortune 100 isn’t the place to start.
Find people who are on your level. You’ll have more to offer them, and ironically, they have more to offer you than the bigwigs. If you think that this is a dead end, you don’t get the power of networking. As you grow in your career, guess who else will? That’s right, the person you just grabbed coffee with. In fact, while networking can help your career development, it can help your networking partners grow in their careers as well.
And as the saying goes, “a rising tide raises all ships.”
Almost every VP and person in the C-suite in my network wasn’t there when I met them. But over the past few decades I have built relationships and trust in a natural and organic way. Even though they have more authority and influence now, they are still ready to respond to me at any point. And that’s the power of relationships.
Opportunity is Everywhere
Does this mean that it’s impossible to network with important people? Of course not. There are still valuable connections that you can make with leaders in your field. Many of them are approachable and want to help others succeed.
But don’t sit around thinking that having that one perfect connection will do all of the work for you. That’s not how networking works. If you want to find the opportunity in your network, you have to make the opportunity. Connect with a broad group of people, look for ways to help them, and they’ll help you in return.