Did you know the power of connection can be a one of the most effective paths to accomplishing your goals in business and beyond? Specifically, the path to success is authentic connection with people in your network. However, the very idea of networking and connection can be intimidating.
The good news is that connection doesn’t just happen at awkward events. In fact, it is happening right now, everywhere—online, at work, and in your social life. Even when we are not consciously networking, we are still connecting. Meaningful connections can happen anywhere, from a virtual conference, to a LinkedIn post, to the person next to you in your yoga class.
The question is: how can you connect more intentionally to build and grow your network? And once you do, how can you use the power of those connections to meet your goals? Allow me to offer a few ideas that can help.
- Communicate with gravitas
- Set your intention
- Be a connector
- Map your network
- Master the art of networking
1. Communicate with gravitas
Whenever you talk to someone, you are connecting. That’s why it’s important to speak with gravitas. As Caroline Goyder outlines in her book, Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority, the formula is: Knowledge + purpose + passion (– anxiety) = Gravitas
You can communicate with gravitas by staying grounded in yourself and what you know, and by openly listening to those around you without planning your next statement. If that sounds simple, that’s because it is. However, just like all things, it takes time and practice.
The next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone, practice grounding yourself and speaking with confidence. You may be surprised by how this simple change enables you to connect with others on a deeper level.
2. Set your intention
Your approach to connection should be based on your goal. Take some time to consider what you are looking for in the next phase of your career. From there, you can begin to determine how your network can help you succeed.
If you are searching for a new board appointment, here are some factors to consider before reaching out to a contact for a meeting:
- Expertise: A corporate board appointment is all about how you can add value to the board with your skills and expertise. As you consider joining a board, you should ensure that you have sufficient knowledge in an area that boards require, such as governance, finance, IT, HR, global operations, government relations, M&A, ESG, Digital Transformation.
- Industry: What industry do you have experience in and think about who you know in a particular industry and how they might help you connect with others in that particular industry.
- Passion: Before you contact a connection, make sure that the board you are interested in is where you want to be. If you aren’t passionate about it or there isn’t a strong connection to your interests, then don’t pursue it.
For example, I always lead with my board value proposition so people understand my background and intention. Here is my elevator pitch that I have honed over the years: “I have entrepreneurial, financial & governance expertise with high growth and transformational companies in technology, retail, consumer and cannabis sectors.”
3. Be a connector
As Melinda Gates once put it, “Deep human connection is … the purpose and the result of a meaningful life—and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.” Connection is a powerful force, and if you connect authentically with others, it can make a considerable impact on your life and career.
According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Tipping Point there are three types of people: mavens, connectors, and salespeople. He defines connectors as those who know how to make change happen through people. They love meeting new people, learning new ideas and helping others.
To become a connector, be generous with your network. Introduce people you meet with other leaders and influencers you know, and do it freely, without any expectations.
Not only does the act of being a connector help others in your network succeed, but in the long run, it will undoubtably come back to benefit you. Remember, reciprocity is key. You should always give more to others than what you ask of them.
I have three pieces of advice for anyone who wishes to become a connector:
- Be authentic. Approach connecting with sincerity and come from a place in your heart of generosity.
- Be timely and follow through. Always do what you say you are going to do.
- Be mindful of your network. Your network is like your reputation, so you need to be protective and strategic about who you know and how you tap into their network. It is a two-way relationship, so always GIVE more than you take.
4. Map your network
To build new connections, it can be helpful to understand the ones you have. I call this mapping your network. Once you map your network, you can determine how your contacts are connected, and how they can help you by providing introductions, advice, or championing.
Your network can be broken into the following groups:
- Decision Makers: These are individuals that will make the final decision on who will join their board. They could be any board member, but of course the most influential are the Chair of the Board and Chair of the Nominating Committee.
- Connectors: These are individuals in your network who can connect you to board members, CEOs, and executives of a company you would like to serve. Examples may include lawyers, accountants, thought leaders, and others in professional services.
- Mentors: Mentorship is about advising. These are individuals that can support you with guidance, coaching, and inspiration to help you achieve your objectives. The best mentors find joy in providing advice and encouraging others to make a difference.
- Sponsors: While mentorship is about advising, sponsorship is about acting. Sponsors are typically executives inside your company who are willing to put your name forward for board opportunities. Sponsors may also be individuals you have worked with in the past who believe in you. When you are looking for a sponsor, remember that it is a two-way relationship based on mutual respect and trust. You both need to be invested. Your sponsor is putting their name on the line by championing you, so you should follow their advice and work hard to keep your sponsor’s good reputation intact.
- Organizations: Think about the organizations you are affiliated with, including your alma mater, not-for-profits, professional organizations/associations, and member-based organizations (like-CPA Canada, CBA, GPC etc.). Explore how you can leverage these organizations and your contacts within them to meet your goals.
5. Master the art of networking
Beyond conducting yourself with gravitas, there are also other concrete tactics you can use to network effectively in-person and online.
When in-person networking events are possible again, ensure that you are as prepared to make meaningful connections at your next conference or meeting. That starts with doing your homework in advance. Before the event, research the speakers and draft questions to ask them.
At the event, be bold. If you see an empty seat at a table with people you want to meet, go over and sit there. And if you sometimes struggle with striking up a conversation, prepare an icebreaker like ‘you look familiar’ or ‘where do we know each other from?’ Once the discussion gets started, any awkwardness will fade away.
As Michael Maher explains in 7L: The Seven Levels of Communication, face-to-face communication tends to have more impact than digital connection. However, in the current climate, it is also necessary to master the art of virtual communication. Invest time and energy into learning how to grow your connections using digital tools:
- Video: Quality communication requires the use of body language, so you should use video for calls and messages wherever possible.
- Calls: Everyone enjoys talking about their very favourite topic, and that is themselves. Use the phone to connect with them on that level.
- Social media: Most people use social media to highlight themselves. Instead, use it as an opportunity to focus attention on others by sharing praise and asking questions. It can also be an excellent research tool to help you learn more about your network.
- Email: When skillfully crafted, emails can be effective networking tools. The key is to keep your messages short and personal, striking a healthy balance between friendly and professional. Show that you care by asking specific, genuine questions about the recipient’s well-being.
Once you have made meaningful connections to members of a board in which you have an interest, now you’re ready to reach out and learn more about the company and how you can bring value. However, remember that it can take a while to reach that turning point.
That’s why it is vital to take the long view of connection networking. Don’t expect conversations to benefit you right away. Instead, continue to be generous, authentic, and open with the people you meet. If you are dedicated to connecting with and supporting others, the network you build will eventually help you get where you want to go. This is the power of connection.