When I was initially drafting this post, the first title that came into my head – The Power of the Network – also elicited a funny memory of the ‘I believe in the power of barking’ dog meme. Thankfully, there are some semi-legitimate analogies that I can draw between this image and my topic today, so I’ve included it as the headline image (above).
This dog, whose name we will probably never know, has a blind belief in the benefits that barking has provided his daily life (e.g. safety, love, good health, etc.). Similarly, we are taught to accept wholeheartedly the importance of networking to our lives. A network is “an information exchange between you and another person. It involves establishing relationships with people who can help you advance your career in many ways” (San Jose State University, 2012). When you’re out of a job, you hope that someone will put your name ahead in the pile of resumés clogging up the desks of human resource personnel. When you need a mentor to take your career to the next level, you hope that your long list of professional contacts will yield up a suitable candidate.
Although I have no qualms about the importance of networks and networking, it’s the format of and expectations around our modern interactions that worry me. Countless articles are written on ‘networking with confidence‘ and ‘networking how-tos for shy people‘. It is assumed that networking primarily involves walking up to groups of high-powered executives and boldly introducing yourself.
However, just as we know barking alone to be an inadequate form of protection against blood-thirsty mailmen, networking is not all about being loud and outgoing. James Clear describes in this excellent post on networking that it is more about listening than being heard; connecting to a few key people over everyone in a certain field; and nurturing existing contacts. This natural form of networking, akin to the practice of wu wei, allows you to meet new people through the more passive actions of being present and listening. Sylvia Ann Hewlett backs up these ideas in her book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, suggesting that gravitas, communication, and appearance are pillars around which successful leaders are built.
So next time you are pushed to believe wholeheartedly and without question in the ‘power of the network’, think instead of the many ways in which you can gracefully and elegantly maintain and expand your professional connections. There may be more peaceful ways to achieve that goal than you realize.