I recently celebrated a birthday, and amongst the numerous messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and WhatsApp, one made my day.
A person who I have coached in the past, shared with me a personal accomplishment and said she thought I would like to know. I did. I was grateful she shared, for it acknowledged my authentic desire to see her achieve her goals. It was the best gift, and it made my day.
As I train and coach young and emerging leaders, a lot of them struggle with building a network beyond peers. A lot seems to be on the basis that they do not have much to offer to senior or more accomplished connections. A young intern whom I had helped recently was unconvinced that I would love to know what she ended up doing. A young manager was happy to send endless likes to an industry senior on LinkedIn but did not think he had anything else to offer. Another client felt concerned about not wanting to come across as a brown-nosing hypocrite.
If this were such a one-sided relationship, these networks between the young and the experienced would not exist.
As I took the conversation to senior leaders, each seemed interested in building a network with the younger people. Moreover, each seemed able to count a few people whom they were engaged and connected with on the other side of the experience fence. They were excited about these connections and spoke energetically about their young (growing) network.
There were some common trends in our discussions. The older or more successful one got, greater was the acknowledgement of the ambient nature of success. The need for touching lives, creating personal impact, and having a purpose beyond material pursuits was evident. And the youthful network seemed to provide just that.
Here are some dos and don’ts that emerged from the conversations with senior leaders:
1. DO NOT drop me Happy Birthday messages. Even though I was polite in accepting your LinkedIn invitation, I don’t remember you from the one time we met at some conference. Also, if you have my phone number, sending me that mass Happy New Year message also does not count as any real connection.
2. DO tell me how it went if you sought any advice or asked for my opinion. Somebody, I had a brief conversation with dropped me a note saying they had decided not to move from their job. He said that my question about what he loved in his current job made him think and he decided that he still had more to achieve. It took me a moment to recall the conversation, but I did, and I told him to tell me what he did next. I genuinely want to know now.
3. DO NOT ask a question to look intelligent. I meet many intelligent people every day and, in most cases, they don’t need to bring it up. When you quote an article or reference a book that you just read for the sake of it, I can figure out what’s going on, and it isn’t genuine to make a connection. Instead, talk to me about things you are really interested in and your knowledge in that space will automatically show up, and the conversation will be interesting and memorable. A much larger probability that we make a connection.
4. DO ask me questions but smart ones that help you think. Asking what I would do or won’t do in a situation, doesn’t add any value to you and doesn’t tell me how you think. A young employee going for masters had a choice between 2 great colleges. Instead of asking me what I would do, she asked what questions she should be asking herself. She made me think, but the decision was clearly hers to make. I was curious to know where she decided to go. She made sure I was amongst the first to know when she made her decision. It wasn’t the place I would have picked if she had asked where I would go, but the decision seemed right, and I felt proud of her for some reason.
5. DO talk about things you care about and what excites you. I talk about work-related stuff all day, and these conversations are a genuine reprieve. I like to know what young people are interested in and how they are living their lives. Make yourself interesting for yourself and for others.
The overall gist I got was that the connections that were welcome and remembered took care to be genuine. They showed gratitude and made it specific. They shared success and acknowledged contributions. They did their homework and asked specific questions which allowed for specific insight to be shared. They followed through and shared outcomes; they showed gratitude; they kept in touch. They did not just show up when they wanted something; they created an investment by making people part of their journey.
So, if you’re a young person wondering what you have to offer, the biggest gift you can offer is impact and legacy. So, if you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy, you know that this is what the people at the top are probably seeking the most.
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