Friday, May 18, 2018

Want to Be a Stronger Leader? Use this Map to Improve Your Alliances and Relationships

Relationships and alliances help you build momentum and move closer to your goals, They influence your outlooks and attitudes about what's happening around you. They even affect your longevity, resistance to disease, and mental wellbeing.

Yet in the hard work of building a business we often forget to be intentional about the allies we gather around us. We set visions for where we want the business to go, strategize on financial structures and campaigns that test product-market fit, and use design thinking to more deeply understand our customers and what they long for.

But relationships? If you're like most leaders, they simply "happen." We take them as they come -- but seldom apply proactive thought to gathering the right people around us.

You can change that. By getting intentional about your relationship strategy, the way you would about a product or financial plan, you can design a path to improving the connections that influence you most. I recommend a simplified version of a "sociogram," or map of relationships and social connections. Although there are various ways to construct sociograms, the simple one shared here offers an easy way to identify and design the alliances you want to bring to your leadership -- and life.

Here's how it works.

Draw Your Map

First, draw a small circle in the center of a piece of paper and jot your name and date in it.

Then draw two rings around it: concentric circles moving outward from the center. Leave enough room to do some writing in these circles.

Next, reflect on key relationships that influence you: people you interact with often, or who create significant impact on your life, or on whom you rely for stability, support, and collaboration.

Start to write the names of these people: the most influential ones near the center, close to your name, and the somewhat less impactful ones farther from the center.

Try to identify 8-10 names, and no more than 12. Consider both positive and negative influences. Identify important people from your past, even if you're no longer connected. Include personal as well as professional connections: loved ones and key work relationships belong on this map.

Be thoughtful about the process. You may put names down and end up replacing them with others that feel more influential. Keep refining until you have a solid map of the most influential 10-or-so allies in your circles.

Identify Patterns

Now, consider the roles of the people you added to your map.

Which are mentors, guides, or inspirations: people you learn from or see as role models, whether they know it or not?

Which are partners or collaborators, whether personal or professional? Is there someone who is your "Champion," always in your corner ready to cheer you on?

Which are dependents, relying on you for appropriate care or nurturing - or in needy ways that drain your time, energy, and attention?

Who might be a deterrent: a critic or challenger who complicates your path or burdens your life experience with negativity?

Do you have a catalyst, someone who sparks you to a higher level of vision, contribution, or presence?

Notice similarities between them. What patterns do you see? What gaps?

Design Your Ideal Map

As you reviewed this map you probably felt things you liked about it, some you didn't like about it, and some you wished to change. Use that thinking to develop the Sociogram you want to have surround you.

Put your name and a realistic future date into a center circle. Then, around it, like before: two concentric circles.

Need a mentor? Mark that in your closest circle, or move someone who could be a guide or inspiration closer to the core.

Notice some toxic forces close to the center? Push them out to the farther circle, or, better yet, out of the circles altogether.

Too many optional dependents? Soften their impact by moving them away from center. Maybe you'll see how this opens up time and headspace to move family or loved ones in closer.

Who is missing from your circles? A champion or catalyst? A partner?

Who needs to move closer to center? Who farther? Who needs to leave your circles? Who do you want to invite in? Invest some time to reflect on your ideal constellation of allies. It's the first step in designing the relationships you actually want.

Convert to Action

Compare the two maps. Everything different between them, is, in a sense, your desire for change. Now, all that's left is creating a plan of action.

Identify those desires and name the outcome you seek. Maybe it's something like "I want a go-to mentor I can meet with regularly to improve my long-term thinking," or "I want to limit the impact of negative personalities by reducing the time I spend with them."

Then think of barriers to these actions. You may not have a candidate for an aligned mentor, or you may need to navigate some politics to interact less with the negative force.

Next, identify ways to work through those barriers: how can you create the desired change and outcomes? Can you activate your alumni network to seek a mentor, or reconnect with someone you've lost touch with? Can you come up with a corrective plan for the difficult forces to see if they can change, or adjust your behavior so you interact less frequently? In other words, what can you do to make your desired change happen?

Reaching the success your second sociogram inspires may seem like an ambitious plan -- but isn't that also true of any product, financial, or organizational vision? Move toward realization of your ideal relationship map the same way you do with other goals: by setting a clear vision for what you seek and putting steps in place to help you achieve it.

Need motivation? Close your eyes and see yourself in that future circle, surrounded by allies who help you succeed. We can't do it alone. Designing the relationships that help you get where you want to go is, actually, a big step forward in getting there.


Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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Stop Playing Golf and Going to Happy Hours. Do This Networking Activity Instead

We talk every day about innovation, what's next, what piece of technology will disrupt whole industries. But we never talk about innovation when it comes to networking. Sure, social media has certainly changed it.

But face-to-face networking, as a whole, hasn't changed much. People still pass out business cards, still meet for Happy Hour and half-priced apps at their local networking group. And they still play golf.

Don't get me wrong, I love golf and I understand its previous networking appeal. It's quiet and leaves plenty of time to bond and discuss things. But it's not necessarily for Millennials it's not cheap and it's not a workout. And Millennials are now the largest age demographic in the workforce so preferences are changing.

If we know that people are looking to be more active then we need to re-evaluate networking activities as a whole. We need to make them less expensive so more people can be included. We need to make them more active because today's connected workforce is always looking to kill two birds with one stone. A networking activity that also doubles for a trip to the gym is crucial.

But it also has to be general enough that people can have a conversation while doing it because again that's still the most important part. I would love to network while doing CrossFit but not everyone is as crazy as I am.

So when I was in Las Vegas last month for Adobe Summit, we took people on a bike ride. Simple, athletic, outdoors and the creation of a common experience everyone can share. And the excitement of doing something other than golf worked.

"Some of the best networking I did this year at Summit wasn't inside the conference itself but on the highways around Las Vegas--on my bike. When people are doing something active and the endorphins are pumping it's a way to forge a much more natural, and lasting, connection. Networking doesn't always have to mean sipping drinks and wearing name tags. It's as ripe for disruption as any other business practice," said Ryan Holmes, founder and CEO, Hootsuite.

Beyond the health benefits of exercise, cycling has three major benefits in the workplace - it fosters creativity, builds a sense of camaraderie and collaboration, and can positively impact performance.

Brad Rencher, executive vice president and general manager, Adobe Experience Cloud, broke down those three reasons for me and gave me insight in to the mind of a young top executive at a company and how they are rethinking work-life balance and networking: creativity, camaraderie, and performance.


To me, there's no better way to think critically though a tough problem than on the back of a bike. That's why I schedule cycling meetings with my team when our schedules and discussion topics permit us to get out of the office. It's our chance to ditch the to-do list and step outside to get fresh air and open up our minds to think creatively though our challenges.


Our rides foster camaraderie, whether they're internal team rides or external rides with partners and customers. During a ride, you're working together to make it to the finish line-inspiring each other to push forward and make it through tough climbs. This sense of teamwork builds deep, lasting relationships that go beyond the ride. In fact, a partner who joined a ride this past year at Cannes told me, "We all walked away feeling we connected with each other on another level, which obviously helps business discussions."


I cannot speak enough about the importance of balancing your day job with exercise. In fact, according to a recent study by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University and the Center for Health Research at Healthways, employees who exercise three times a week for 30 minutes are 15 percent more likely to be higher performing individuals. Any physical activity, whether it's cycling, a walk around the block, or even painting, goes a long way toward resetting your focus and making people better when they're on the job.

It doesn't have to be cycling. But it does need to be something your team is passionate about doing and wants to share with others. Make it an experience. Make it more active. make it something that creates a collective bond that you can share and remember call back to over time. That's what makes a networking experience memorable. And the point of networking is to be remembered, not forgotten. 


Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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Join WNFP Communities!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How Much Time Should You Invest in Networking?

I’m at a Starbucks with a colleague as I write this piece. As we’re sitting here working, she’s telling me about how she just went into business for herself full-time. She knows that networking is a part of a successful business, but she’s wondering how much time she should invest in networking.

This is a very valid question. It’s also one I get all the time. I understand where she’s coming from because at this stage in her business, she still feels like there are a lot of unknowns. As a result, she needs to balance between figuring out the behind-the-scenes of her business with networking.

I can tell you from my personal experience that networking even in the beginning stages has led to the business I have today. Therefore, I do think you need to invest in networking. The real question is how much? Here are some tips.

Ask yourself these two important questions…

Sometimes, you don’t need to figure out how much to invest in networking. What you really need to determine is whether or not a particular event is worth your time. I, for one, have attended plenty of networking events that went nowhere. Over time, I learned to develop a series of questions to help me determine whether or not I should attend an event.

Will I make an immediate return on my investment?

At the end of the day, whether or not you should invest in networking comes down to the word “investment.” When you invest, you expect to make a return. Therefore, you need to determine what the return would be for a particular event.

Here are some ways to make an immediate return:

  • Getting paid to attend
  • The ability to sell
  • Education

In the beginning stages, you may be more concerned with seeking education to grow your business. Often times, you can get some sort of education when you invest in networking events that are designed to teach attendees.

Is there a person/brand attending that I want to meet and potentially do business with?

The other way in which to determine whether or not to invest in networking is to consider who will be at events. For example, I go to events if I know a particular brand will be present. This is one of the strategies I use to get influencer deals and it works like a charm.

If a particular person is leading or attending an event, then I might go as well. That’s actually how I met one of my first mentors in the beginning stages of my business.

Final Thoughts

That’s it. If the answer to these two questions is no, then I won’t invest in networking unless I feel like I have extra time. As you can see, I focus on whether or not attending an event will actually lead to more commas in my bank account. I did this in the beginning and I still do it today. The reason is that I don’t like taking on more than I have to. The stress isn’t worth it.

Image Credit: rawpixel | Pixabay

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

Stay Connected with WNFP!
Join WNFP Communities!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Not Having These 8 Networking Skills Will Cost You

"It's not what you know, it's who you know" is one of the oldest sayings in business. Often, your ability to bring real value to your company hinges on how well you build and leverage your personal network of relationships. And when you aren't doing a strong job of networking, you ultimately cost yourself, and your business, money.

Without strong networking skills, you might be missing out on the shared knowledge and tips about opportunities that simply aren't available through normal channels. Be it a promising lead to a new business opportunity or a subcontractor who is more skilled than her peers, you can end up paying more and earning less if you're not building the right relationships.

You don’t make small talk

If your first response to meeting someone at a conference or in the office is to offer up your business card and ask about their work, you might be unintentionally keeping them at a distance. Don't get into a bad habit that could cost you your next raise. Networking is ultimately about people as much as it's about business, and having a stronger personal relationship with your contacts will ultimately make them more valuable to you -- not to mention make your interactions more pleasant.

What to do instead:

Open conversations with a discussion of shared interests before letting the conversation organically flow into business topics. Engage people about what matters to them to make a much stronger impression and cultivate a relationship you can sustain over time.

You don’t follow up

After attending a networking event, you're likely to return home with a stack of business cards or friend requests from the many people you've just met. It can be easy to just sweep them aside in favor of more pressing concerns, but that's a mistake. Just because it isn't a job requirement doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out again -- it's an important skill that money can't buy. People will quickly forget names and faces, and without adequate follow up, you're unlikely to show an adequate return on the time you spent networking.

What to do instead:

Reach out and touch base with any interesting people you met, particularly those people you spent the most time talking with, even if it's just to send a brief email or post on social media. People remain more connected to those contacts who follow up promptly, and you can cement yourself in their memory just by offering a brief "hello." Be persistent -- it's a trait billionaires have.

You aren’t networking at work

At the end of a long day, the last thing most people want to do is attend networking events or socialize with work contacts, rather than head home to relax. When you wait until after normal business hours to do all of your networking, though, it can leave you feeling drained, something that rarely fosters the personal connections that develop into valuable business relationships.

What to do instead:

Do your networking at work, building relationships with the people at your business and the people outside your company you're in regular contact with. Using work time to socialize with other people in your field isn't shirking responsibility; it's building the bonds that will keep you connected to people even after they move on to different jobs. Building networking into your work day is one of the best ways to ensure that you're developing a network without stretching yourself too thin.

You aren’t active on social media

The torrent of messages and posts that come with your social media accounts can be overwhelming at times, and they can definitely reduce your productivity. However, just because a tool isn't useful all of the time doesn't mean it isn't essential some of the time. Social media platforms are ideal for facilitating networking, and many people rely on them to keep in touch with people, making tools like LinkedIn and Facebook much more reliable for networking in some cases than calls or emails would be.

What to do instead:

Maintaining a LinkedIn profile is one of the easiest ways to get a clear sense of your personal network and how far it reaches. You even have the option to see how your connections might provide you with an "in" with a certain person or at a certain company, increasing your chances of getting a job. It's also a great way to keep personal and professional social media usage separate if you're uncomfortable with business contacts seeing your personal posts.

You don’t try to expand your network

It can be easy to settle into a routine, maintaining a short list of contacts you're regularly in contact with, and feel like you don't necessarily need to expand it. While it's always good carefully cultivate relationships with your closest associates, too little time spent expanding it can leave your network narrowly focused and with limited value.

What to do instead:

Expand the boundaries of who you communicate with so you can reap the benefits of a larger pool of expertise. Plan lunches, coffee dates and drinks with people at your company that you don't typically interact with, or even fellow professionals you associate with outside of work. You never really know where you might discover a great relationship; sometimes, the connections you're most surprised by prove to be the most valuable. Marketing yourself doesn't cost very much, and it yields high returns.

You don’t do your research

Heading into a meeting or networking event without knowledge of who you might be meeting and their industry will probably leave you unable to really understand how you can potentially help each other. Your networking efforts will this ultimately prove frustrating if you don't adequately research the people and companies you're interacting with ahead of time, as you'll be unable to make those meaningful connections.

What to do instead:

A clear sense of who you're meeting with and how you can help each other will typically make your networking efforts bear more fruit. Learn about who you're meeting, what their company does and how you can help them reach those goals. When you come into the relationship armed with knowledge, you can create more opportunity for everyone involved.

You don’t start with the end in mind

Setting goals is usually an important step in any process. Without clear definitions of success, it can be difficult to know how to approach a situation. That's as true for networking as it is elsewhere in business. If you don't have a sense of what you want to accomplish at a certain event or meeting beyond "networking," your efforts will be unfocused and not produce the results you want.

What to do instead:

Enter all networking situations with a goal in mind. This doesn't mean you're locked into pursuing a certain outcome, but simply that you have clear expectations and a sense of what you need to make your investment of time worthwhile. Networking is most effective when it's focused on developing mutually beneficial relationships, so don't be afraid to define your idea of success prior to starting the process.

You aren’t thinking win-win

If your network consists solely of people who are going out of your way to do you favors, it's probably not going to remain strong for long. Without some degree of reciprocity, your business relationships will remain one-sided and unlikely to produce much value for you or your business in the long term.

What to do instead:

Make sure that you are providing as much, if not more, value to the rest of your network as they are providing to you. The best business networks are those that benefit everyone involved, so listen to requests from your contacts and find ways to grant them when possible. What's more, if an opportunity arises where you can create value for a contact, don't hesitate to reach out. The more you help your network, the more it will help you.

Image Credit: Shuttershock | theleetgeeks | | Pixabay | Pexels | StartupStockPhotos |

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

Stay Connected with WNFP!
Join WNFP Communities!