Networking is the oxygen of the connected economy. It is the currency of consumer collaboration. Unless you are a monk, getting through life in the 21st century is a challenge at best if you have no network. Virtually every job today is gained through the network. If you are selling storage, soup, semiconductors, software, soap, or self, you require relationships and relationship building skills. Blogs are created just to highlight its importance. Books are written to amplify its necessity. Porter Gale’s nearly five-star tome “Your Network is Your Net Worth” is one such example.
I get it. And my network has steadily grown over the years driven by my appreciation of networking’s value and veracity. My number and position as the 62,086th person to join LinkedIn speaks to the priority I have long paid to institutionalizing relationships and assuring my ability to stay in touch, pay it forward, pay it back, and be known in my field.
The bottom line, though: networking requires work. And there is an inherent obligation and responsibility to reciprocity, meaning that networking can only be successful if it is a two-way street. The essence and value of successful networking demands that it be give and take. So why am I placing an emphasis on this point? It is often lost on people that networking requires two people with mutual interests; someone who needs a hand and another who is willing to reach out and help. It also requires a memory that is permanent and a commitment that is sustainable.
The unfortunate fact about networking is that it can be abused and misused. I think of it in terms of Jekyll & Hyde. As you will recall, Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel explores the dual nature of man, one driven by instinct and the other reason. The reasonable man, Dr. Jekyll, is concerned about reputation and doing good. Mr. Hyde lives on instinct, doing what is expedient to self, regardless of consequence.
The point is that successful networking requires sacrifice. It requires acts of selflessness regardless of outcome. It demands doing something for others without expecting anything in return. Ultimately, selfless networking has its rewards. If you have doubts, give it time. Your generosity is likely to be returned many fold.
With this all said, there are some rules of the road to insure that selfless networking is sustainable. Herewith are some gems to consider and keep in mind to insure maintenance of the virtuous circle of networking.
You are never too important to respond. Moving up the corporate ladder does not lessen the obligation to help. There is the occasional tendency to think that because you have succeeded in an endeavor in life or in your career that your obligation to help others is null and void. If you benefitted from the generosity of your network, there is always the moral duty to return the favor, whether you are CEO or OCD.
Remember the Alamo. Always keep in mind the kindness paid to you during a tough stretch. The passage of time does not lessen the need to pay it back. So often people become so occupied by their career success that they forget what it feels like to be in the queue or facing the future with no prospects . Institutionalize your nature to help. And always pay it back. The life you save may be your own.
It works both ways. Networking is not a one-way street. You cannot expect to receive the benefits of your network unless you are willing and able to give. It may be possible to take advantage once or twice, but eventually your network will find you out and the brick wall of hesitation and inaction will make an ugly appearance. Be responsible by being responsive.
All Cues, All the Time. The network does not take a vacation. It is real-time, all the time. The network does not start and stop. It is just there for the use of its beneficiaries. It functions all the time and performs best when all the players use it for the best reasons. So like the network, once you start, don’t stop. We are in an era where networking is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
Wine-ing, not whining. People respond to genuine requests for help. They won’t respond to a litany of complaints. Always view the world as glass half full, not empty. The only whining allowed is one without the H.
Gerry Corbett is the PRJobCoach at prjobcoach.com and CEO of Redphlag LLC, a strategy consultancy. He has served four decades in senior communications roles at Fortune 100 firms and earlier in his career in aerospace and computer engineering with NASA. He has a B.A. in public relations from San Jose State University and is a member of the International Advertising Association, National Investor Relations Institute; Arthur Page Society, National Association of Science Writers, and International Coaching Federation.