“Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. Take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. ‘Willy Loman is here!’ That’s all they have to know, and I go right through.” — Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Willy Loman never did get that there was more to business success than just being liked.
A couple of years ago I was requested 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. Following is 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’ successes, with no expectation of reciprocity.
Second, make a commitment to yourself to excellence in your profession. Strive to be in the top 1% 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 perspective, 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. Be a good finder in people and for people. 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 to them. 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, 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 and rationalized by greed; second is the unreasonable expectation of a relationship, which usually displays itself in an inappropriate request, or timing; and 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.
Patrick Burke is the managing principal of Burke Group, a Rochester-based retirement plan consulting & administration, actuarial services and compensation consulting firm. Contact him at [email protected].r