Developing the Right Networking Skills
I’m pretty terrible at networking.
When it comes to music and technology, I’m usually an early adopter. However, when it comes to branching out into new relationships, I’m like my Grandma Evelyn who still pays for CARMENfan6127@aol.com. As fulfilling as my relationships are, I’m often a skeptic on the front end. Heck, I dread meeting people who I, myself, sought out to meet.
What if they’re super awkward? What if one of their eyes is lazy and I can’t decide which one to focus on? What if we meet for coffee and the venue is so loud that I have to just keep nodding as if I understand them? Or—this is my favorite—what if they start asking me to do stuff for them that I don’t have any time for? Sometimes my “no, thank you” sounds a lot like “sure, I’ll do that for free.”
What’s even worse is that I have friends who dominate at networking: they’re popping up in my Instagram feed at some NBA game or snapping selfies backstage at a concert. I have to remind myself to like extroverts. They’re always slapping backs, saying “buddy,” making eye contact, and getting free tickets to Disney while I’m busy worrying that my iPhone battery will fall below 20%.
I remember a few years ago when a co-worker of mine, an audio engineer, commented during a rehearsal, “Man, I’ve really gotten this vocal mix sounding great. It’s too bad all these people are going to come in here, start singing, and ruin the whole thing.” He was joking…mostly.
This is the reality of church work: it centers on people and relationships. For some of us, that’s an energizing reality. For others (like me), it produces a lot of anxiety. That being said, God in His sovereignty anoints both introverts and extroverts as leaders. And it is by His design that we all need intentional community in order to be effective. Networking is not a bonus activity for leaders; it’s a core requirement. We need people in our lives that are able to challenge us, resource us, inspire us, connect us, rebuke us, laugh with us, and flat-out help us.
Are there not 1,487 books on this topic? Yes. Yes there are. But I’ve not read any of them. Instead, I’ve fumbled through this actuality over the last few years. Here are 5 basic principles that might help my fellow friends who are terrible at networking:
Don’t be a freeloader.
Don’t ask a designer to meet for coffee and then implore them to design your Summer Smash t-shirt logo for free. That’s so incredibly lame. Network as you would have networked unto you.
Honor those you want to connect with.
One of my favorite co-writers picked up the phone one day, called Amy Grant, and asked if she could meet up for an hour just to benefit from her wisdom. Not to co-write. Not for a favor. Just to sit listen. And Amy Grant agreed. This doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve found it happens a lot more often than you might think. If you present yourself as a genuine student of something, most people feel honored to be called “Teacher”.
Another friend of mine publishes this awesome digital magazine (I can’t state the name of it, but it rhymes with “Fun Day Bag”). He’s the same way as my co-writer friend: he connects with tons of awesome people because he invites them into a conversation that distinguishes and respects their level of experience. This is networking gold.
Don’t network with everyone equally.
Perhaps my biggest networking mistake over the years was thinking that every connection I made required an equally invested relationship. There are some networkers who love and care about everybody they meet. This is what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, refers to as “Connectors.” Those are special types of people. For the rest of us, give yourself permission to meet with a person one time and then never again. I’m not advising that you “use” someone or be unfair. But it’s also important to know that networking isn’t about the numbers. Your time is valuable; therefore, your connections must also be valuable.
Diversify your connections.
A couple years ago I composed a short list of the most innovative people I knew personally. The list included brand managers, web designers, video producers, musicians, entrepreneurs, pastors, etc. Afterwards, I gathered as many of them as I could on one night. In a context like this, a question like, “Why do you think Steve jobs was successful?” can go on for hours. It brings out strategies, systems, philosophies, principles, and even more interesting questions. That was the easiest, most beneficial networking move I ever made. Leadership is a universal pursuit. That means there is something we can learn from every industry and creative vantage point. Think broadly about the people you can learn from.
Be someone worth networking with.
If, at the end of the day, you’re terrible at finding people, make it possible for them to find you. Make sure your portfolio is curated and visible. In your organization, involve yourself in meetings that interest you; forget your job description. Be active on social media. Read blogs. Comment on blogs. Don’t be a know-it-all. Let your work speak without qualification. Decide that you’re going to be a professional and then present yourself accordingly. If you’re producing great work, there will be people who want to meet you.
Ultimately, networking can’t be about you. It has to be about something bigger.
When we network to build our own kingdom, it amounts to using and abusing relationships. But when we leverage those relationships to invest in a bigger Kingdom, we find relationships are a powerful force for good.