Damn you, Netflix!
I shutter to think what unholy combination of movies appear in my history to make Netflix recommend “Bronies”, a documentary about the adult male (mostly) fans of My Little Pony (think Trekkies, only with pink ponies). The title alone made me curious to take a peek inside of their odd world. (Spoiler alert: It’s not a weird sex thing. I know, I’m as surprised as you are.) About fifteen minutes into the film, I realized
I wish some of my clients were bronies.
I should probably clarify that statement. I have no plans for developing a special coaching service for men wearing pony ears. What I meant was that I wish more of my clients could find a tribe – a community of like-minded souls – to connect with on a regular basis. Beyond the benefits of having a social outlet, a group like the Bronies could do wonders for your career.
Just Say No to “Networking”
“Network more” is the career equivalent of “eat your broccoli”. You know that it’s good for you but most people don’t really want to do it. It brings up bad memories of uncomfortable networking events filled with awkward small talk and spilled drinks. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Networking is anything that you do to connect with another human being.
So while traditional networking events definitely fit the bill, so do intramural sports teams, choirs, sororities, chess clubs, and even Bronies.
The great thing about building your connections through a tribe is that you already have at least one clear thing in common, a jumping off point for hundreds of conversations. And because you enjoy being involved with this community, you’ll come back more often which helps to maintain the relationships that you forge. As an added benefit, your hobbies and civic or charitable involvements are a great way to diversify your network. For example, my favorite funeral director throws on a bandana and mixes with accountants, IT managers and a host of other upstanding citizens in his motorcycle club. Riding on a sunny day his network touches Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, government agencies, non-profits, and academic institutions. All while feeling the rush of the wind and the power of the engine. Not bad, huh?
Making Fun Events Work For You
If you take full advantage of the connections in the fun activities in your life, you may be able to skip many of the boring networking events that you’ve been dreading. Here are a few tips for making the most of those moments:
- Don’t think of networking as a transaction (you’ll give me a job lead if I have something to offer). Instead, it’s a relationship that needs to be built, strengthened, and maintained.
- In your first encounter with a new person (online or in real life), your only goal is for her to think “I like this person. I want to stay in touch.” Don’t worry about impressing her with your resume or your credentials. Your reputation will take time to establish.
- Get active. Don’t lurk on message boards, start posting your opinions and creating dialogues with other members. Attend live events, and better yet, join one of the planning committees. Let people experience you.
- Be yourself. Now is not the time to do your best impression of a stereotypical leader, entrepreneur, or anything else. Authenticity wins this game in the long run (and it is way more fun).
- Offer your knowledge. As you talk to other tribe members, whenever possible, share your knowledge or experience to help them solve problems they are currently facing. That way you can be helpful while simultaneously growing your credibility.
- Expand the conversation. Every discussion does not need to be about ponies (or basketball, girl scouts, etc.). Get to know more about your fellow members, including family and work.
- Give assistance. One of the best networking phrases is “how can I help you?” It’s OK to directly ask someone how you can be of service. You need to invest in your network before you should start expecting it to payout.
- Forget about titles. Everyone that you meet has the potential to be a valuable contributor to your network in some way. I’ve met very senior leaders who are more easily influenced by their assistants, drivers, or nephews than by other executives with big offices.
My favorite part of the documentary was when they followed a British teenager suffering from Asperger Syndrome. Despite the anxiety caused by his condition, he was excited to attend the local Brony convention. In a welcoming environment, surround by his tribe, he blossomed. He went from being someone who avoided most contact with strangers to high fiving people on the convention floor. His community changed his life.
That’s why finding your tribe(s) is so critical. Life is hard enough, filled with things that you have to force yourself to do. Boring networking shouldn’t be one of them. Time to throw on your Princess Celestia t-shirt or motorcycle helmet and get started.
What fun things are you doing to build your network? Let’s hear it in the comments section.