The Connect Effect: Building Strong Personal, Professional, and Virtual Networks

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Entrepreneur and executive development expert Mike Dulworth's THE CONNECT EFFECT provides readers with a simple framework and practical tools for developing that crucial competitive advantage: a high-quality personal, professional/organizational and virtual network.

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1: What’s Your Networking Quotient?

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As we have seen, people are finding that strong personal, professional, and virtual networks are an increasingly essential element in their development, effectiveness, and well-being. Just look at the popularity of virtual networks such as MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Ryze. A strong network can help you navigate rapid change in a number of ways, including broadening your exposure to information and your access to expertise.

Networking is something that we all do naturally every day; we just may not call it that. The people who are most successful in life do it purposefully. This book is to help you do what you do naturally more consciously, more systematically, and more effectively.

In this chapter, you will have an opportunity to assess your NQ, or networking quotient. By having a single measure of your ability to develop strong networks—your NQ—you’ll understand the strength of your network and where you can improve.

Before we get to the assessment of your NQ, let me share with you my equation for success:

 

2: Network Early, Network Often

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We’re all born into a network of family and friends, but sometimes we fail to see the value of these connections— or realize what they represent. We often don’t realize that these natural connections with friends, family, and community can actually form the core of our networks. In the previous chapter, I asked you to estimate the size of your network universe. If you’re like most people, you probably underestimated significantly, discounting people you know as “just a friend from school” or “just a cousin.” My hunch is that you don’t realize how connected you are. Once you’re aware, you can then learn how to improve these connections and use them to your great advantage.

In this chapter, I will present my own personal networking journey as an example of how natural networking can be—and how helpful it is in life. Throughout my life, I’ve seen the powerful effects of a strong network. From my mother’s network of friends to my father’s professional networks, I’ve seen firsthand what a positive effect networks can have on someone’s life. I’ve also benefited throughout my adult life from a strong network. My network has landed me jobs, opened the doors to clients, facilitated my growth and development, and enabled me to be 29what I am today, a successful business owner. I hope my story will provide you with a framework for analyzing and understanding your own network.

 

3: Building Your Network

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Most people are not very good networkers. I’ve come to this conclusion by talking with and watching the thousands of people I’ve come into contact with over the past twenty-five years. I also know that people can become better net-workers by following a few simple steps. And these guidelines are not what you read about in most books on networking—for example, “the five steps to working a room” or “get out there and join a lot of groups.” My advice and guidance, I hope, is much more practical and straightforward and can be weaved into a person’s daily life without becoming too time-consuming. Becoming a better networker is not rocket science, but it does require some different behaviors and actions than most people exhibit or practice.

In chapter 1, I described strong, powerful networks as having four key qualities: (1) quantity, (2) relationships, (3) diversity, and (4) quality. What do you get when you have a network with all these qualities? The tagline I use for my networking business sums it up: “The right people, the right conversations, the right time.”

 

4: What’s Your Personal Brand?

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Do you know what your personal brand is? Did you even realize that you have a personal brand? Of course, you know companies have brands: Tiffany’s is upscale, with the accent on luxury. Wal-Mart’s is down-to-earth, focused on low prices. Even cities have brands: New York is the Big Apple, while Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world. And people have brands too—think Trump, Oprah, and Tiger Woods.

But you don’t have to be a television star to have a brand. You are famous within your own network. People within your network recognize you instantly. And within your network, you have a personal brand. Your brand is, to use an older word, your reputation. It’s how people know you, what they have heard about you, what they think about you.

Your personal brand isn’t how you see yourself; it is how others see you. We can see this most clearly in public figures such as politicians. They work very hard to define themselves, to control the message, their personal brand—but public perceptions win out in the end. The fact is that our brands—our reputations—are rarely the result of the image we try to project but of our actual behavior (which is why people in the public eye often get in so much trouble). Your personal brand isn’t a fake persona or mask you use when you network. It is the real you as others see the real you.

 

5: Entering the Network Zone

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At this point in my life, I’ve entered the rarefied world of the “Network Zone.” There is almost nothing that I can’t do or accomplish—or do better, more efficiently, and more effectively—through my network. This network has grown so extensive and deep that I can tap into it to support me personally and professionally and even leverage it to make a positive impact on society.

What can you accomplish when you’re in the Network Zone? The answer is, just about anything! This book is one result of being in the Network Zone. But the Network Zone can go far, far beyond getting books written and published. When I interviewed leadership expert and bestselling author Jim Kouzes, he told me the following story:

I remember when we interviewed Don Bennett, who was the first amputee to climb Mount Rainier. Don responded to one of our questions in a very memorable fashion. When I asked him what was the most important lesson he learned in climbing this mountain (14,470 feet, or something like that) on one leg and two crutches, he said, “You can’t do it alone.” He said, “I wouldn’t have made it to the top of this mountain 76if it weren’t for my climbing team, and I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for my family.” And I think we should all remember that every day—that you can’t do it alone.

 

6: Networking Peer-to-Peer

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We’re going to shift gears a bit now. We’ve been discussing ways to develop your networking skills and build your network. In the next few chapters, we’re going to focus on different types of networks. The peer-to-peer networks discussed in this particular chapter bridge organizational boundaries. Chapter 7 will focus on internal organization networks, and chapter 8 will discuss communities based on a common concern or passion: communities of practice.

While, by definition, peer-to-peer networks lack an important dimension of diversity (everyone has the same occupation), the trade-off is well worth it. As Jim Bolt, wrote in a recent article in Fast Company, “The central idea behind the effectiveness of peer-to-peer networks is this: We all learn better, trust more, and gravitate to the shared experiences of people at our level and in circumstances similar to ours. And, there is incredible value in being able to tap into the collective experience of a group of trusted peers.”4

When computer techies talk about peer-to-peer networks, they are referring to computer networks with no hierarchical structure: every computer is on the same footing. It’s the same 92when it comes to people: in your peer-to-peer network, you are with your equals. One reason that peer-to-peer networks are so effective is that they create a secure, open environment that helps accelerate learning and development. The network becomes a safe harbor for participants to freely discuss issues and challenges of individual and organizational importance with peers in organizations who have very similar positions and responsibilities.

 

7: Tapping Organizational Networks

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If you are well along in your career, are happy with your progress, and see a bright future in the organization where you work, you may think that networking is not important for you professionally. After all, you’re advancing at a good pace and don’t feel the need to seek out opportunities outside your organization—you know where you’re going. You may think the best thing for you would be to keep your head down and focus on your job: if you shine at your job, you’ll get the next promotion that much quicker. Spending time networking would just be a distraction. You might think that, but if you do, you could be heading for a tumble.

The fact is that every organization has networks, often hard to spot, that are separate and distinct from those shown on the official organizational chart. The organizational chart shows you who does what and who reports to whom, but it doesn’t show you who talks to whom, who knows what, and how the work 103actually gets done. Politics also plays a role in the life of every organization and often profoundly affects the decisions that get made—and politics most often flows along networks.

 

8: Joining Communities of Practice

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In 1999, the state of Pennsylvania decided to work more intentionally across agencies to address the issue of transi-tioning children with disabilities from school to work. Rather than creating a “department of transition,” the state convened a community of practice that brought together practitioners involved in transition issues from all the different agencies and departments concerned. By forming a community, these practitioners remained with their agencies, doing the work they did there, but they brought their perspectives together, collaborated across agency silos, and learned with one another. They also started to organize annual conferences to bring together practitioners from across the state who had local “transition councils,” including educators, government workers, and businesspeople, as well as parents.

At the third annual conference in 2004, interagency teams from five other states were invited to visit and learn from the Pennsylvania experience. To this day, the state representatives meet regularly, on the phone and face-to-face, as the national Interagency Transition Community of Practice. This creates a system of heterogeneous communities of practice at various 117levels of scale, from the local councils to the various inter-agency communities in the participating states to the national community of state representatives. The project is part of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) Partnership, which has a grant from the Education Department to support national communities of practice on various topics related to special education.

 

9: Virtual Networking

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Virtual networking is the new frontier. In 2006, Time magazine’s Person of the Year was not the usual politician or philanthropist. Instead, the cover simply read, “You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.”8 The premise was that individual user-generated content is growing dramatically and rapidly influencing society. People have begun turning to the Internet for a great deal of their regular activities, including social interaction on a number of levels.

In this chapter, we’ll take a brief look at this phenomenon and then discuss how you can take advantage of it. The virtual Connect Effect can put you in touch with any number of people who share interests similar to yours. We’ll also discuss virtual etiquette—the dos and don’ts of social networking.

My definition of virtual networking is any networking that is done with people you have never met face-to-face or the act of networking using interactions that are not face-to-face. This means that this form of networking could be done via mail, telephone, or fax. In actuality, these days, it’s done mainly over the Internet.

 

Resource A: Choosing Your Board

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It is essential to know yourself. Once you have gone through a process to create self-awareness, you are ready to choose the right people to sit on your board to help you make sound choices. Who do you want on your board and why do you want them? Just as important, what do you expect from them and what do you have to offer them?

We assume you want board members who have wisdom. By this we mean people who understand the importance of heeding your life’s calling and living and working on purpose.

Naming your purpose is the first step in your quest to working and living on purpose. In answering the question, “Who are you?” many questions usually come up. They may include:

These are the kinds of questions your Sounding Board can help you to answer.

Your Sounding Board is made up of trusted individuals who listen well and offer you courageous conversation. They may have only one thing in common—you! But they all meet the following criteria:

They’re interested (versus interesting)
They are genuinely interested in you and want to see you succeed.

 

Resource B: Online Networking Sites

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New networking sites are being born every day. Rather than create a list here on paper that will be instantly outdated, I am going to list a few sites you can check out online that can get you started exploring the Internet for networking opportunities. You should also check out my own Web site, which will be updated regularly with networking links: http://www.theconnecteffect.com.

An eclectic mix of online communities, chat rooms, and message boards can be found at the following site:

The following sites provide listings of social networking sites (with some overlap):

Wikipedia provides a large list of social and professional networking sites here:

If you like social action—the environment, women’s issues, human rights, animal activism, and more—check out these two sites:

Professional/business oriented networking sites include the following:

These are just a few ideas to get you started. You can also search for “social networks,” “business networks,” and similar terms on your favorite Internet search engine.

 

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