When you think about “networking,” what comes to mind? Used-car-salesman tactics? Awkward handshakes and small talk? Rethink those negative associations.
Because if you want to succeed in your job and in your career, you have to embrace networking. The Harvard Business Review just published a piece on the necessity of networking, where the authors write,
“A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.”
Who doesn’t want all of that? It starts with shifting our mindsets and behaviors.
A network mindset—or, in other words, knowing the power of having a robust network and cultivating your network actively—isn’t surface level and transactional like simply swapping business cards. Instead, it’s about building, growing, evolving, and deepening relationships with people.
In response to my previous network mindset post, Nereyda Salinas, Director of Stanford EdCareers also flagged a need to re-think how we think about networking:
“At Stanford EdCareers we’ve found that we’ve had to reframe the [negative] concept of networking […],” she writes, “to ‘connecting with others, succinctly and authentically, for the purpose of finding shared goals and values.’ Once this reframe is internalized, people have a much easier time reaching out to others.”
Growing a network mindset is not only a way to help find the job you want, it’s also a way to do your job well—better than you can alone. Most importantly, it’s the way to create the world that you want to work in.
Sound hyperbolic? It’s not.
For me, a network mindset helped me launch and grow Education Pioneers, a national nonprofit that has trained and supported over 3,000 education leaders. I’ve relied on my own cross-sector network of leaders from all walks of life to help me see and solve challenges, get unstuck, develop new ideas, and help others do the same. Plus, a network mindset keeps me connected me with great people who make the work even more meaningful
That’s why recently, I shared that strengthening your network mindset should be one of your top priorities.
Today, let’s get down to brass tacks: 8 behaviors to grow your own powerful network and to develop a network mindset.
1. Show up. Many of the great relationships I’ve built have been serendipitous—I’ve gotten lucky with who I’ve met at various events. Success is about showing up (Woody Allen was right).
It doesn’t matter if it’s a small gathering, or a national conference. Show up at different events, and make sure you’re not just seeing the same people over and over. Broaden your circle.
Once you’re there, be ready to engage. No matter the technology and tools at our fingertips, nothing can replace making a face-to-face connection with someone.
(Shameless self-promotional plug: Join Education Pioneers this November for our national conference and meet hundreds of leaders, movers, and shakers from education and beyond. Other events that I’ve found especially valuable in building my own network over the years are the NewSchools Summit and the Draper Richards Kaplan annual retreat.)
2. Follow up—with the magic of coffee. People often end initial networking conversations with the vague close, “we should grab coffee and talk more.” Without follow-up, initial meetings and the energy of the interchange fade away. Even if you become fast LinkedIn connections, if you simply leave it at that, it will remain a thin connection.
Instead, forge a relationship with your newfound contact; have coffee or lunch to learn more about each other.
One woman I met at a conference last year told a powerful story of resolving a difficult conflict over a cup of coffee. She then gave credit where credit is due by adding that, “coffee is magic.” When people engage over coffee, she said, we can find common ground and bridge differences to solve conflicts.
Coffee is also a great way to start to build meaningful connections with another person—don’t underestimate its magic.
3. Host or attend a “Jeffersonian dinner.” Jeff Walker and Jennifer McCrea have been promoting “Jeffersonian Dinners,” that bring together a diverse group of approximately 12 people.
The dinners start by having everyone answer the same question. The opening questions—like, “Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why?”—establish a level playing field so everyone can engage and have a voice. Then, participants dive into a related topic—like “How can we get more great teachers to local schools?”—and people share their different ideas.
An Education Pioneers alumna who has participated in three Jeffersonian dinners cited two keys to a successful evening – an authentic question and a great moderator.
4. Embrace social media. Don’t overlook social media as part of your networking strategy, even if it seems obvious. Social media is essential for sharing your ideas and perspectives (in posts like these), and giving input and virtual high-fives to your friends and contacts who share their own. Get to know your network better and more deeply via social—and put yourself out there too so others can learn about you.
If you’re at a loss with the latest social media platform, find someone who isn’t and who can help you get out of your comfort zone. I recently joined Snapchat after getting a tutorial from an EP team member. (It may only be a matter of time before we’re all barfing rainbows.)
5. Join existing communities. No surprise here that I believe in the power of fellowships to build meaningful relationships and create a diverse and robust network. After all, that’s what Education Pioneers does.
And there’s a reason why: it’s powerful to bring together professionals from different personal and professional backgrounds who share a common purpose, cause, and values. No matter our differences—and, in fact, because of them—we find better and more meaningful solutions to seemingly intractable problems together.
That’s the beauty of fellowships, or college or graduate school, or extension classes (and even social and professional clubs): you can step into an established community and don’t have to traverse the path alone.
6. Go deep. A caveat here: not every relationship you have will be deep; it’s simply not possible. But deep relationships are incredibly meaningful, so find the ones you want to cultivate.
It’s invaluable to have close friends you can turn to when times are tough (Ben Horowitz captures this beautifully in this post following the passing of his friend and Silicon Valley legend Bill Campbell). It matters to be able to share the challenges you’re wrestling with, and be vulnerable and honest with friends who care about you, listen, ask good questions, and support you even if they don’t have the answers.
On the other side, it’s equally meaningful to be able to support people when they’re looking for a trusted sounding board.
7. Go wide. Not every connection you have will be strong and deep, and that’s okay. Loose ties can be valuable, too—and they’ll likely make up the majority of your network. Much of how people find jobs or get in front of opportunities comes from loose ties. There’s value to be found in those 10 minute conversations at conferences, too. Tend those loose ties, and ensure you have a good ratio of deep-to-loose ties.
8. Say thank you. Above all, gratitude matters. To build strong relationships, we need kindness, generosity, and gratitude. It’s incredibly important when we give to each other without expecting anything in return.
Maybe it’s because I grew up near Silicon Valley, where there’s a culture of leaders being generous with up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Or maybe it’s because kindness, generosity, and gratitude are also some of my personal values. Regardless, I make time for rising entrepreneurs in education, and I’m grateful when I see the Education Pioneers network do the same for each other.
When you open up your heart with kindness, generosity, and gratitude, it often comes back to you in different ways. (Even if it doesn’t, that’s okay; it’s integral to the work regardless.) Giving to each other is when we start to create a world we want to work in. At least I know that I do.
How do you stay connected to your network, tap it when you need it, and contribute to it? Share your thoughts in the comments.
And in the spirit of forging new relationships, connect with me on Twitter and attend Education Pioneers’ national conference this November.
Scott Morgan is the Founder of Education Pioneers. He founded the organization in 2003 to identify, train, connect, and inspire a diverse group of leaders and managers to accelerate systemic change across the education sector. An educator, attorney, and social entrepreneur, Scott believes that talented leaders from diverse personal and professional backgrounds can transform education for all students. Follow Scott on Twitter at @scottmorgan1.