“Birds of a feather flock together” or “tell me who you go with, and I’ll tell you who you are”
These sayings have carried over through generations to mean nothing less than: like attracts like and one’s character is perceived by the company you keep. Growing up, both my grandmothers consistently chanted these words to me and because I was a bit of a rebel, I made sure I had different types of friends (the eccentrics, the popular, the geeks). Somewhere in between, I kept my inner circle who really didn’t exceed more than three people.
Being part of such diverse circles as a teenager gave me the freedom to experience life through their eyes. Most importantly, I learned to relate to the members of each group, making it easier for me to connect with people outside of my inner circle or close friends – a skill that I have come to appreciate even more as an entrepreneur.
But this isn’t about my high school days, this is more about owning up to the relationships we keep in the professional arena.
In this clip, Prof. Herminia Ibarra of the London Business School clarifies that in the professional arena there are at least 3 different types of networks. Within the context of my high school days, these networks would look something like this:
1/ Operational (geeks) 2/ Personal (inner circle) 3/Strategic (popular)
Operational are the people we seek when we need to get things done in our workplace.
Personal are the connections that we choose, people we like to be around, they give us advice on childcare, church community, yoga instructor, gynaecologist.
Strategic is the most important for career advancement, it’s where you sell your ideas, get information and resources that increase your influence: neighbor, alumni from your alma mater, the executive director you sat next to at a business conference.
The first two are homogenous in that “like attracts like” the last one is where she says that women have the hardest time with because women tend to keep separate circles between work and play while men don’t hesitate to overlap.
Professor Ibarra goes on to say that most of the time we stick to the operational and personal networks because it’s what we know and are comfortable with.
Strategic networks are tough because this is where we are often outside of our comfort zones. We tend to tap into this group very rarely.
When we seek to advance our careers, we go directly to our personal or operational groups – but these are the people who resemble us. They will see the same opportunities we see, remember, “like attracts like”.
It’s the strategic group that gets you going places, this is where you are a vehicle for curiosity.
My question to you dear reader is: who is in this strategic group? Is it an executive whose language you don’t speak very well? How do you prepare to sell your ideas? How do you get information and resources? How do you increase your influence? You tell yourself “it’s been too long since we last spoke, they’re going to think I want something from them.” I say, get out of your head and into action: call, send them an email, now.
The higher up we aim, the more we keep our distance for fear of rejection, which only increases our desire to connect. It’s a whirlwind of emotions.
Let’s focus on this strategic group because this is where we tend to make ourselves small or are apologetic and this is the group that holds the space for us to soar professionally.
Anything that comes close to these self-limiting thoughts are to be transformed into actions that bring you closer to your dreams.
“I don’t want to intrude”, “I don’t speak very well”, “I’m shy”, “He or she is too busy, they have more urgent matters to tend to”.
Get this very clear: People have an innate desire to help, why? Because it makes them feel good to feel useful – it’s as simple as that. Don’t rob others of this expansive feeling just because you don’t feel up to standard.
I challenge you to put your strategic relationships to the test by:
- Taking baby steps and celebrate the initiatives you’ve taken to be part of the conversation
- Showing up: on platforms, projects, meetings outside of your professional activity
- Being active: on LinkedIn share your thoughts, contribute your ideas, be the vehicle through which ideas come and flow
Are your perceived shortcomings getting in the way of (not speaking English fluently, not having the degree you think you need, not having the public speaking skills, being shy) a fruitful connection with your strategic network? Allow yourself to connect in a profound way so that you may grow as a person and a professional.
Are you ready to transform the way you see yourself and want to take an active role with your strategic network? Contact me and I’ll walk you through the easy process of connecting with others and don’t let the word ‘process’ scare you – it’s easier than you think. Click here for a helpful conversation and actionable tips.