Building Powerful Networks: Connecting Internally to Network Externally Part I
There is a lot of advise, tips, strategies, cds, books, articles, flash cards, and general marketing hoopla around the topic of networking. And I suppose as someone who promotes career development and who coaches lawyers and executives to dream big, follow their passion, expand their sphere of connection and surpass their career goals, the topic of networking is one that I am often asked to lecture about and advise others how to do.
And over the years, my perspective on the topic of networking has changed dramatically. Few people I work with know this about me, but the truth is that up until about 10 years ago, I found myself sitting on my porch at home one afternoon, and feeling a profound and deeply shameful sense of professional isolation. I was on the verge of embarking onto a whole new career and I found myself with barely anyone to tell! The bitter irony of thinking that I was about to launch a career coaching practice and yet I found myself with no network sent me into a deep, reflective and semi-depressed mindset. I was one of those people that had spent so much time chasing, studying, working, perfecting, building my competence and intellect that I found myself very alone, disconnected and at sea with a whole lot of great degrees and hands on experience but with no mentors, no professional support system, no network and without colleagues who I could spend time with. My drive to become the consummate professional had driven me deep into a hole of professional isolation that seemed to get darker and deeper with time. Who was I to tell others how to navigate their careers, and build connections, and dream big when I myself had become the isolated victim of single minded determination and functionally a real loner? It was a very painful and difficult moment. I was the wounded healer alright…and I needed to make some serious changes. Anyone who has ever known me knows that I’ve never been socially introverted, and I am not the type to ever shy away from events, cocktail parties or professional gatherings. And yet, in my dogged pursuit of professionalism, I somehow lost touch with some of the best parts of myself, lost touch with the things that give me joy, and I had forgotten how energized I become when engaged with other people. And in the process I had lost touch with others. That’s the way all isolation happens: we lose touch with ourselves, our best parts, our powerful selves, our joyful happy selves….and as a result we retreat and lose touch with others. It’s an insidious, slow but progressive process. Lose touch with yourself..you lose touch with others. That simple. So how does this all relate to networking and building powerful networks, you might be asking.
The process of professional isolation is no different. Lose touch with your skills, your talents, your passions, your joy, your curiosity, your strengths, and eventually you become disconnected from your most powerful professional self and your self image becomes compromised. When that happens…you slowly lose touch with others. And once that happens...the cycle of professional isolation locks into gear and the last thing you want to do when you feel bad yourself professionally and about having let relationships lapse is to start to rebuild relationships, connections and social commitments. The cycle of professional isolation from others starts with isolation from the professional self.
So if we are to start building powerful networks we need to start with connection. Essentially networking is another fancy word for connection: connection with self and with others. To connect powerfully with others we need connection to the professional self so that we can connect with professional others. A disproportionate amount of time is spent giving tips on connecting with others. Bottom line: if you’re not connected with your strengths, skills, talents, confidence, sense of mastery, sense of accomplishment and sense of career direction,,,, it is unlikely you are ever going to want to connect with others professionally. Why? Because if you don’t feel powerful, stable and connected to your professional goals objectives and trajectory you will most likely avoid connecting authentically with others. Shame will take over. Lack of confidence will take over. Shyness will take over. And once those emotions dominate it becomes very difficult to connect authentically with others. So the first step…before the tips and advice...is to set on a course of connecting confidently with your professional self.
What does that mean? It means taking an inventory. In the training program & workshop I run on this topic we talk about setting a course for Self Image Awareness and Self Image Management. There are many books that focus on this topic one I strongly recommend is “ Now, Discover Your Strengths” because it allows you take an online assessment that offers a great starting point for this Self Image Awareness and connection. Basically, connecting with your professional self requires taking a Professional Assessments regarding your level of: Awareness, Self Image, Confidence, Language and Thoughts. With respect to each professional self assessment category ask yourself:
- Awareness: Do I have a good sense of my strengths, skills, talents, competence? What needs to change/be strengthened/ improved?
- Self-Image: What professional image do I presently project to others? Is that what I want to be projecting?
- Confidence: What is my present confidence level? What activities/people drain/support my confidence? What needs to change?
- Language: How do I talk about myself? How do I talk about myself to others? Is it positive and energized? What needs to change?
- Thoughts: What are my habitual thoughts about myself professionally/Where do those thoughts come from? What evidence supports/negates those thoughts? What thoughts should be replaced?
This framework should start you thinking, assessing, and changing some of your thoughts about your professional self. It can also start the process of allowing you to reconnect with your professional strengths, skills, vision and values so that your level of connectivity to your professional self starts to increase and improve. Building powerful networks requires connection to self before any of the great advice about connecting or networking with others can be implemented in an authentic, sustainable and meaningful way.