Keepin’ It Real: Building a Meaningful Sustainable Network

One of the downsides of social media is that it has led us to believe that we have the power to increase our personal and professional relationships exponentially, simply by Tweeting, Snapchatting, Linking-In and Facebooking each other.

We couldn’t be more wrong.

I remember the times in my career when I was either looking for a new job, trying to find a contact at a certain company or just helping someone in my network make a connection. It never failed to amaze me the lengths the strong people in my network would go to in order to help.

Conversely, I was always surprised at those who turned out to be “fair-weather” friends, disappearing when I needed help and then re-appearing when they needed something from me.

We can never stop trying to build and grow our network, but we need to be tuned into the quality of these relationships, as opposed to the quantity.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine of Forbes Magazine reminds us that:

“If you have fewer than 25 strong professional contacts you could reach out to now, your network is too small. You might have deep connections with a small number, and this is a good start.

But you also need quantity in your network. You should prioritize meeting new professional contacts. If you have the quality and the quantity but you don’t feel like you could reach out today, then you have an issue with maintaining your network. You should prioritize following up with people you already know.”

The balance between quality and quantity is critical in developing and maintaining a strong, real network. Nurturing a diverse network of people can be a driving force in helping you build your career. It’s human nature to flock toward the people with which we have common interests. It’s much harder to extend ourselves far beyond our inner circle to connect with people who don’t seem to have the same interests.

Ceniza-Levine challenges us to test our networks by asking the following:

  • When was the last time you had lunch or a Starbucks with a contact outside your day-to-day colleagues or closest friends? 
    If it is more than a month or you can’t remember, this is a danger sign that your networking is too insular.
  • Do you have mentors and supporters? 
    When you need some off-the-record advice or candid feedback, do you have people that you can go to who understand your role, your company and your industry? If not, then you’re not taking advantage of mentorship in your career. Mentors are not just very senior people who can move you to the next level by sheer influence. They are also peers and colleagues who extend your network and keep you updated on what’s happening across the business community.

The trick is in seeking a deeper meaning and connection with each new networking opportunity, which has its own risks and rewards.

The risk we take is having to identify common threads with those who seem to be outside of our world. The reward we reap is expanding our network by connecting with people who may not naturally fall into our realm of experience or sphere of influence.

It’s been said that diversity is its own reward. Ron Burt, a professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, says you can expect even more good things when endeavoring to expand your network. People that do this:

  • Have a hand in and exercise control over more rewarding opportunities.
  • Are paid better and promoted faster
  • Move information faster and to more people
  • Use less time and energy to get good results
  • Can tailor solutions instead of relying on one-size-fits-all answers to challenges.

All of these benefits are a result of an expanded professional network. But what’s even better is the fact that by expanding your network, you will be able to relate a diverse group of people at a more personal level.

It’s that human connection that will determine your success or failure in business and in life. The key is to seek meaning, depth and genuine caring about the person on the other end of the connection.

In relationships, quality trumps quantity every time.

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