How to Leverage Your Networks/Contacts for Career Success.
It’s been said, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and this couldn’t be truer about relationships if you want to be successful in your career, your business, and in every area of your life. Having the right relationships can bring you greater fulfillment, open new doors, and expand your knowledge and perspective.
I consider myself a master connector and I have people in my network from all walks of life who come from various ethnicities, genders, cultures, ages, beliefs, personalities, experiences, skill sets, and thinking styles. I began building this kind of broad network early in my career because I didn’t see many people who looked like me at the top of many organizations and I knew that I would need the support of others. My network and contacts taught me how to navigate inside of an organization as a minority, a woman, a young professional, how to position myself as a leader, and how to communicate my value.
I also leveraged my relationships for increasing knowledge and skills, learning more about the industries I worked in, and getting access to resources. As a result, I worked my way up to senior leadership and executive roles and enjoyed tremendous success later in my career. And now as a business owner of a global workforce solutions firm, having those broad relationships has been critical to my success and to the many opportunities that have come my way via referrals and recommendations.
Several of my contacts even turned into contracts. For more than 10 years I enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with a colleague whom I met at work named Grace. She was a well-respected consultant and speaker and was passionate about her work in Leadership, Change Management, and Diversity.
When we first met in 2005, we became fast friends as well as professional colleagues. She and I spoke at conferences together, served on committees, referred business to each other, and collaborated on books, white papers, and training programs. One year she landed a multi-year contract with a large bank in the Northeast part of the United States. She was ecstatic and they loved her work.
A few years into the contract, she suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak clearly and to walk or stand for long periods of time, among other things. It was devastating news because it was unexpected, and it took away one of her main sources of income and something she was gifted in—speaking and singing. She had a voice like an angel, and I remember her opening up a conference that I hosted with a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace.
After weeks of being in the hospital, she reached out to me and requested that I take on her client work while she rehabilitated. She indicated that she trusted me with her business and with her client and knew that they would receive me well. I agreed and immediately began delivering coaching and training for them with another colleague that she also reached out to.
For the next year, she continued to develop new training courses for the client and work behind the scenes to support us in delivering. As I usually did when servicing her client, I reached out to get last minute updates and to let her know that I had arrived at the hotel safely and was all set for the next day of training. We spoke and she was thrilled to know that everything was good. But she wasn’t feeling well that evening and let me know that she had been in the hospital a few days that week.
The next day I reached out and left her a message that the sessions were well received again, and the client was satisfied. I didn’t hear back from her, but I figured that she was resting and recuperating. Two days later I received the message that she had passed away the day that I left her the message. I was devastated! It was unbelievable news.
Later that afternoon I called the client to ask if they knew of her passing and they had not heard. They too were devastated. A week later, the client called me and wanted to talk about next steps with the contract. She said, “Because she trusted you with us, we trust you with us.” And the contract was transferred over to me for another year.
While the story is quite sad, it really is a story about the power of relationship. Over the years we had nurtured a trusting, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationship that turned into a business opportunity for both of us. I was able to step in and partner with her in her darkest hour and in her last days, and she trusted me enough to serve her client. As a result, her client trusted me because she trusted me. This is what I mean by, “relationships are the new currency.”
Maintaining a broad network and an extensive list of contacts has additional benefits. It has been instrumental in my ability to overcome personal, organizational, and societal barriers and limitations. When I started my career in Human Resources I joined several organizations, read a lot of books, and subscribed to a number of online platforms. But it wasn’t until I made the human connections with professionals that possessed various expertise, skills, and backgrounds in HR that I began to grow new skills.
They shared best practices and pitfalls, and offered resources, and learning opportunities that gave me an edge up and it cut my learning curve in half. Also, by leveraging my relationships I obtained new job opportunities. When the time came for me to move to new roles, my network referred me to their companies, or to other jobs that they were aware of, and offered to be references. They also recommended me to recruiters and to job sites that expanded my search. As a result, I was often able to secure a new opportunity.
Receiving feedback and coaching has been one of the most significant benefits of having a broad array of relationships. I learn so many perspectives, ideas, and solutions from people with varying experiences and backgrounds that I wouldn’t otherwise. And I can’t tell you how obtaining new referrals and recommendations has accelerated my business success.
More than 95% of new business is driven by referrals, repeat business, and my connections on social media. And lastly, leveraging my relationships has enhanced my health/well-being by providing encouragement, support, and advice during challenging times.
Learning the art of building beneficial relationships, as well as knowing how to leverage those relationships in a way that helps you to learn, grow, and become better is a critical ingredient to achieving success in your personal life and your career.
Written by Dr. Shirley Davis.
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