I frequently have conversations with friends and clients about effective strategies for connecting with new business professionals, how to appropriately follow up and how to handle meetings being rescheduled. I would like to offer a sampling of “best & worst practices” for your consideration regarding these questions and how to be more successful with our efforts in expanding professional networks.
I vividly recall a visit from my father last year a few days after his 80th birthday. Reaching this landmark age is quite an achievement in itself, but what dawned on me during his visit was the richness of my dad’s life as he shared stories of his past with his grandsons. I appreciate that he shares not only the fun and happy stories, but the adversity and heartbreak he has faced as well. My father long ago realized that one of the few treasures he has left to give us are the stories and experiences from his life. I never fail to glean something valuable from this man I know so well, and my sons never tire of listening to their Papa.
I have been incredibly fortunate over the course of my time on this earth to receive invaluable gifts that have made a tremendous difference in every aspect of my life. I am not talking about a new car, a new watch or a new shirt for Christmas. I am talking about the thoughtful gifts from family, friends and even relative strangers that have changed my thinking, inspired me, taught me valuable lessons and gotten me back on track when I was lost.
I have been leading people since I was a 16 year old in high school working at a restaurant in the town where I grew up. Leadership has always been a passion for me and after years of study, reading dozens of leadership books, listening to mentors and accumulating great experience on the way to a successful career I have come to understand one thing: I can still learn something new about leadership. In my case, the best source of ongoing leadership lessons is my 21 year old son Alex, who has high functioning autism.
When we think of a mosaic, we usually think of tiles of glass or stone that have been formed into a beautiful image by the artist. I was reflecting recently about my dad and the wonderful “mosaic” he has created in his 81 years as a father, husband, friend and servant of his community. The “tiles” of his life are represented by the countless acts of kindness he has performed, the sacrifices he has always made for his family and the lifetime of service he has rendered his church and community. It is obvious to all who know him that selfless love and a generous spirit are at the heart of all these deeds. Like all of us, he has made mistakes along the way, but the mosaic of his life is something beautiful to reflect on and aspire to emulate. I think of the exemplary life of my dear departed mother in much the same way.
“Authenticity–The quality of being genuine or not corrupted from the original. Truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, and intentions.” Source: Wiktionary
Authenticity. What is it, who is doing it well and how do we make it work for us in the business world? Attempts at building business relationships that lack authenticity can often feel contrived. When approached by people lacking in authenticity, we may likely feel used and simply a vehicle for the other person to achieve their business objectives. This is networking and selling at its worst.
We must own our behavior. Every action we take with regards to relationships in the business world is intentional. On some level, we likely know what we are doing, but may not always consider the impact of our actions or the repercussions on our clients or co-workers. Do we come across as givers or takers? Authentic or fake?
“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G. K. Chesterton
I remember at a very young age the constant urging of my parents to always say “thank you” in response to any kindness or friendly words shared in my direction. For many years, I saw this advice from my parents as simply good manners and what people were supposed to do. In my mid-teen years, I was mature enough to observe the heartfelt sincerity my parents always showed when they said “thank you” to others, offered prayers of thanks or expressed appreciation for the simple blessings in their lives…and how different it was from my perfunctory use of the words. They really meant it and I began to understand that their use of “thank you” transcended mere courtesy and it clearly meant something much more meaningful and powerful to them. What I observed my parents practicing so well was the beginning of my deeper understanding of the word gratitude.
“Meetings are notoriously one of organizational life’s most insufferable realities. U.S. companies spend more than $37 billion dollars a year on them. Employees in American companies spend more than one-third of their time in them. And 71% of senior managers view them as unproductive.”
-Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review (February 16, 2018)
Let’s admit it. If given a choice, we would likely opt for dental surgery over some of the work meetings we are forced to attend each week. I have listened to my business clients express their frustration about meetings for over two decades and here is a brief sampling of comments I have heard:
One of the specialty offerings of my firm is the advanced coaching and consulting we offer to companies, business leaders and their teams around the concept of maximizing business relationships and optimizing client engagement. This is a vast area of study and I could fill a book with the various approaches and proven best practices I have found to be most helpful for my business clients. One of the biggest areas of interest for my clients is their desire for the essential tactics and simple engagement approaches that are critical for building effective business relationships both inside and outside their organizations.
My first and greatest mentor in life was (and is) my father Steve. He was a master of building business relationships and was well-respected and trusted by all who knew him throughout his long career. I remember well the advice he gave me 30 years ago, soon after I graduated from UGA and was about to begin my career. He told me to think about three basic approaches when I was encountering new professionals as I began my first post-college job:
- Be helpful/Serve their needs
- Be sincerely curious
- Always add value