Dear Shannon

Dear Shannon: How do I work my networks?

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Some advice to strengthen your virtual and 'real-life' professional relationships.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." — Unknown

In my past few GreenBiz columns I’ve been highlighting what I call the three P’s of a successful impact career: purpose, potential and finally, people. I’ve saved the best and most important P for last. I'm a strong believer that you can’t get anywhere worth going alone.

Relationships are your facilitators to personal growth. They are the mirror that challenges you to see the truth of who you are and what you value, both spiritually and professionally. After achieving clarity about your purpose and gaining confidence about your potential, it is time to consider how you can leverage your network — your people, your clan, your champions — to help you align it all to achieve your career ambitions.

This starts with taking stock of the positive relationships in your life and checking in with them. Don’t forget — healthy, productive relationships require effort and nurturing. Stephen Covey’s five-day Seven Habits of Highly Effective People course that I took more than two decades ago included homework to identify your top 10 relationships that are most important to you and to assign each of them something special each week.  It is a painstaking effort but one that pays off well.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind as you reflect on your current network.

Embrace the changing face of business

We all know that business revolves around relationships and that people "buy" from other people. In the past these human connections largely have been face-to-face. But now that technology has allowed us to forge new relationships regardless of distance, virtual relationships are becoming the norm. According to a recent BT study called "The Changing Face of Business Relationships (PDF)":

  • 56 percent of businesses have clients they’ve only ever contacted by email.
  • 42 percent of businesses communicate with each other by email.
  • And only 26 percent of people use the phone on a daily basis.

I’ve experienced this myself in my small consultancy. I’m based in London but work with both clients and my employees all over the world. I hired my current (amazing) assistant, who’s based in New York, over the phone and did not meet her in-person until she had already worked for me for two years.

I also meet with more than 60 percent of my clients via Skype and video conferencing. As a sole proprietor, I’m grateful for social media and other digital tools that have allowed me to build my business and to scale the impact of my life’s work in ways that would not be possible otherwise.

Foster authentic collaboration

Today’s technological business environment is highly complex and demanding, placing incredible pressures on you to perform at an increasingly fast pace. Therefore it’s important to check in on your relationships from time to time and make sure you are nurturing the most important ones — those where you are giving and getting back in overall equal measure.

One way of meeting these demands is to embrace collaboration and partnership as a way of working. According to that same BT report, 82 percent of businesses have had to seek help from another organization when attempting a new or unfamiliar task at work. This goes for the people in those businesses, too. In order to grow and forge new skills, we need strong networks made up of mentors, partners and team players.

As helpful as technology has been for me, conducting business through virtual meetings and emails, as well as managing remote employees, requires an exceptional ability to listen and stay on task. Being a good listener and communicator promotes quality work, meaningful collaboration and sustainable relationships.

Take care of you

Strong relationships with others help us stay true to our authentic selves, and collaboration is a great teacher that helps forge new skills. But remember, at the end of the day the most important relationship you have is with yourself. Our compassion and empathy has to start from within, for ourselves. This goes for our self worth and confidence as well.

It’s important to check in with this on a regular basis. So ask yourself: Do I feel connected in a meaningful way with others around me?

Then make a list of the three most important relationships in your life right now. What is one thing that you could do differently to build the relationships that matter most to you within or outside of work?

If you are stuck, I challenge you to do one thing for yourself, for your organization, for your team or for your kids:

  • If you are a manager: Understand what brings daily fulfillment to everyone on your team  
  • If you are a purpose-oriented worker: Tailor your job and career to optimize for strong relationships and for making an impact  
  • If you are a parent: Show your kids how you build relationships, make an impact and grow through your work  
  • No matter who you are: Find a moment every day to practice and share gratitude and empathy for others, including yourself.

For some bespoke advice on defining your purpose and incorporating it into your personal brand, get in touch with me at Walk of Life Consulting.

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