Business Succession

Avoiding Networks Of Charlatans

A friend of mine asked me a somewhat disturbing question lately: in short, the “high-powered” people she had built her network around turned out to be frauds. She was asking for advice on how to “escape” or change that network. Did the reward outweigh the risks?

What was disturbing wasn’t the question itself; it was the fact that this question pops up all the time. 

What happens when you realize that many of the people with whom you network are charlatans, rather than leaders?  

In order to be successful in any industry, you must have a strong network. It’s imperative. Building a network doesn’t mean you’re trapped in it; and at the same time, worrying about “disrupting your network” because you discover that the character of some no longer serves your business isn’t just something you should embrace- rather, your biggest fear should be a lack of taking action instead. 

 According to Eric Barker, in his fantastic book “Barking Up The Wrong Tree” (read it):

Like it or not, we reflect the people we surround ourselves with, on some level. Therefore, discernment over the voracity of our network itself isn’t important just because it is a reflection of us, but because it can and will influence us.

So, how do you build a strong networking foundation?

That friend of mine I mentioned? She’s actually a client, turned friend. And all too commonly, true, stable networking connections eventually evolve from professional relationships to personal in this way.

Think about the people in your circle, business or otherwise. Would you strictly refer to them as your “network”, or would you consider that circle to be made up of your friends, also?

Of course, your “circle” is probably a bit of both, but most of the times, the majority of people who come to mind are friends.

In the world of business, even at highly formal networking events, the most memorable people that make the best impression aren’t necessarily the most important people in the room. 

 It’s those with whom conversation flowed naturally, who were kind, who later demonstrated that are the most lasting connections, and those we typically remember the longest.

So how can you build a strong foundation for your network, and become a better networker?

  • Never be sleazy about it. Never make a “connection” for networking’s sake. 
  • Approach it from a place of honest. How can you leave someone better off for the conversation
  • Approach conversations the same way you would a friendship. Be kind; and truly think about the person in front of you
  • Follow up. This is so crucial. It doesn’t need to feel like a “manufactured” follow up; those tend to tip off the recipient that you are merely checking a to-do off your list. Think of something specific to your conversation, and create a natural dialogue around it.

In professional relationships, as with personal relationships, if  you’re not always giving, you’ll never be reaching your fullest potential of progress when it comes to networking. Remembering this helps take a bit of the pressure off of these “networking” relationships we form; at the end of the day, you’re just beginning a friendship (with a “professional flair”, you could say), in the same way you do a normal friendship. 

Again, according to Barker, “Networking has a huge payoff, but it feels sleazy. ‘Research from Francesca Gino shows that when we try to meet someone just to get something from them, it makes us feel immoral. The people who feel least sleazy about networking are powerful people. But those who network the most-the least powerful- are the most likely to feel bad about it. We like networking better when it’s serendipitous, when it feels like an accident, not deliberate and Machiavellian.’”

What does this research show us? No matter what type of perceived “social status” you feel you have when you enter a room (or the “proverbial room” of social media, you could say), you really have more power than you think. In this instance, power can just as easily be equated to effectiveness. 

Many more articles about the topic of networking are coming soon, because again, networking is one of the most important aspects of running a business, and as we’ve seen, allowing yourself to be influenced improperly by the “wrong crowd” is something that simply shouldn’t be tolerated by business owners. 

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