From One-on-One Relationships to a Trusted Network
Bob Bausmith shares 4 impactful networking practices you can start implementing right away
For many, the thought of networking, or attending a networking event, can elicit feelings of dread, anxiety, apathy, lack of enthusiasm, and/or boredom. In essence, networking has developed a reputation for being unenjoyable, artificial, and at its worst, dishonest.
At the same time, in the age of “social networks,” it seems like we are always just one connection away from the perfect investor, the perfect mentor, the perfect reference, or the perfect buyer. Our networks have never seemed so expansive, at least online. But with quantity, comes a risk to quality.
“There are networks and then there are trusted networks. Just linking with somebody on LinkedIn to me doesn’t define a network — or at least not one you can reliably lean on over time.” — Bob Bausmith
Regardless of its reputation, networking is essential for startup founders and established executives alike. And although we might avoid the word “network,” it is through our networks that opportunities present themselves, and we grow and become more successful entrepreneurs.
“It isn’t about money, it’s about learning and growing together. Together we’re better than we are on our own.” — Bob Bausmith
Bob Bausmith, Managing Director at CEO Quest, is clear: if you want to build a meaningful network — one that you can rely on over time — there are no shortcuts. You need to start with one-on-one relationships.
“A relationship is something that I have with another person, one-on-one. A network is where I can leverage my personal relationships to branch out and get to other people. It’s because I can lean on my first order network that I can in turn meet other people.”
So how can we shift the stigma? What can we do as executives and entrepreneurs to make networking feel real, honest, and even enjoyable?
- Practice respect
“There’s no substitute for developing relationships, maintaining them, and leveraging them when necessary. It’s an act that requires getting to know people and understanding how they think about things.”
For Bob, meaningful networks are just an extension of your strongest one-on-one relationships, and those take time, patience, and curiosity. But most importantly, they are built on respect.
“Respect is critical. And by respect, I mean not wasting someone’s time. The fact that I have not gone back to my connections with superficial communication means that when they see something from me, they know it’s worth their time to open it up and see what’s going on. These days, it’s just too easy to post things on social media without pausing and thinking about the impact that can have.”
You need to think about the long game ahead. The strongest relationships are those that you still feel confident calling up 5, 10 years down the road.
2. Rethink your use of social media
LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter might be identified as social networks, but Bob argues that none of these platforms should be thought of as networking tools. At best, they are documentation tools, used to keep track of relationships that have already been established through other means.
“You’re not going to get a meaningful relationship out of a LinkedIn connection. It would simply be too superficial.”
What’s worse, overusing these tools can put your real networks at risk.
3. Be curious
“Everybody has something to teach us. I feel that more strongly the older I get. The more I am open to learning, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
What makes a relationship work is that it is beneficial for both parties. You can’t just take what you need and walk out the door. You play a role in uplifting others as well.
In order to do that, and to do it well, Bob applies the principle of curiosity.
“I think curiosity is really taking the time to listen. You need to understand someone’s experiences, how those experiences have affected what they do, how they approach things. You need to really get to know the person in order to know how best to support them.”
Once you know that, not only will you have gained new insights, but you will better understand how this person can support you and how you can support them.
4. Be generous
Finally, if you find yourself in a leadership role in your industry, you are in the best position to be generous.
While it’s important for relationships to be reciprocal and uplifting to both parties, you can adopt a servant leadership perspective where appropriate.
“Servant leadership is asking yourself: how can I leverage what I know to lift other people up? That takes the generosity to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return.”
Though that seems at odds with our conception of networking, Bob is clear that when he practices this, he finds amazing returns down the road, and never where he expected.”
To find out more about Bob and CEO Quest, visit our website here.
Bob Bausmith is a Managing Director with CEO Quest in New York City, where he provides business coaching for CEOs of growth-stage tech startups. Bob has a lifetime of experience in business and technology systems design. As VP & Chief Enterprise Systems Architect for UnitedHealth Group in the early 2000s, he pioneered the use of Service Oriented Architecture to design an adaptive and highly scalable technology ecosystem for what is today the largest health care services company in the world.