“The man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”
— Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
Willy Loman never did understand that there was more to success than being liked.
A couple of years ago I was asked to give a talk on networking. I asked the organizer, why me? I believe networking as taught by many business gurus and commonly practiced in today’s marketplace is little more than professional panhandling. She snapped back, that’s exactly why we want you to give the talk.
Seeing that I was now committed, I went to work putting together my thoughts on building professional relationships. My talk was well-received and I have given it a few more times since. Here’s what I told the group.
First, and foremost, approach the world with an attitude and behavior of being a friend, not finding a friend. You must have a sincere interest in others’ success, with no expectation of reciprocity.
Second, make a commitment to yourself to excellence in your profession. Strive to be in the top 1 percent in your chosen field, and don’t deceive yourself.
Finally, embrace the idea that what you do off the job, determines how far you will go on the job.
People are drawn to interesting people. So what does it take to be an interesting person? Become an avid reader about trends in business and current events. Spend time expanding your vocabulary, and constantly hone your speaking and writing skills. Be a good storyteller with a keen sense of historical perspectives, and an appropriate sense of humor.
As you interact with others, be a good and active listener with the ability to ask pointed follow-up questions. Find the good in people and transfer that to others. Develop a credible ability to connect parties that have a mutual interest, and when you see something that may be of interest to a contact, send it along. Don’t ever complain and maintain an attitude of gratitude.
Become a thought leader and find avenues to present your ideas and remain open to others’ ideas. Get meaningfully involved in your community. Select good leaders and be willing to lead yourself. Remember names and dress in a manner that shows respect for the parties you are meeting.
I closed with the deadly sins of networking. The first killer is behavior that is self-serving and manipulative, rationalized by greed. Second is the unreasonable expectation of a relationship, which usually displays itself in an inappropriate request, or timing. The final sin is a lack of sincerity in your approach or becoming judgmental of others.
In the end, networking should not be about what you get, but rather what you become: a valued member in your community and profession.
So let’s get to work.