Last week was a huge week in podcast heaven for me! I was a guest on two separate podcasts, and hosted 3 people as guests on Engage Your Healthcare Leadership podcast (guest spots to be released soon; first of my guests out now – click here to access podcast conversation with practice owners talking ‘care outside the box’!)
The discussions and connections I have made with people through this media of podcasting have been amazing! I’ve met some awesome humans from all over the world, all doing their bit to raise awareness of, and implement leadership concepts. Without exception, these people have been generous with their time, thoughtful with their comments and kind in their approach. And they have all been clearly passionate about the work they do and the people they support.
Through these podcast recordings, I’ve also had others reach out to me to connect, and I am so grateful for the interest in what I am doing.
So today, I wanted to talk about the importance of connections in leadership, and how we can make connections easily.
How do you feel about ‘networking’?
Sometimes when people talk networking, I cringe a little. I’ve always felt a little weird about the term and the act of networking, as I used to see it. I saw networking early in my career as something that people did to take advantage of others and get ahead in the world, something that didn’t quite feel genuine.
I struggled to see what I could gain by talking with people I didn’t know about work and career. I also was not a big fan of what they called ‘networking functions’ – organised gatherings to promote yourself and your business. These were often held over breakfast or dinner and to be honest, with a long commute to and from home, and a happy life outside of work, the last thing I wanted to do in my free time was spend it in work talk. And the events I did attend, I found a little stuffy, and insincere.
Wow, I’m not painting a great perspective, here, am I? It’s just that I had some experiences I didn’t enjoy at these events – older managers speaking condescendingly or ignoring me completely, chants and in-jokes that went over my head.
As I progressed in my career, I explored different ways of networking. Because I am a people-person after-all, and I do value the opportunity to share ideas with a diverse group, seek advice, and collaborate. This became especially important as I set up my own business, yet even before then I started to see value. Because I really loved collaborating, brainstorming and helping others. I realised that I was networking all the time, I just didn’t see it as that. I loved finding out about people, enjoyed the spark when you bounced around ideas together, revelled in the shared knowledge and learning.
Forget networking, it’s really connecting!
Basically, I learnt the value in connecting with others at work. In fact, it didn’t even feel like connecting – it was just
an organic collision of like minds, a realisation of shared interests, a wonderful energy of synergy.
Now, don’t get me wrong – when I say forget networking, start connecting – I am not criticising networking events or organisations. Because they are helpful in making connections for many people. It’s simply that some of us get nervous or cynical when people mention ‘networking’ – for whatever our reasons are, they are valid reasons to us.
My aim is simply to encourage people to make meaningful connections with others.
Human beings are designed to connect and belong – to a team, a community, a collective. We want to feel part of a common group or purpose.
Sadly sometimes, this instinct is manipulated by others for a dubious common purpose. And sometimes it’s a delightful, supportive community with shared vision.
When humans connect and work together, big things can happen. So what sort of community do you want to be part of?
Who would you like to connect with?
For me, this is about finding connections who are passionate about developing people in healthcare – encouraging workers to maximise their potential, and to have a positive impact on those around them. Connections who are open to collaborating, respectful of each other’s business, and energetic. When I find these people, I know I want to share and learn with them, encourage and celebrate together.
I’m not closed off though, to making connections outside of healthcare, or with people who have different passions or opinions. Having great connections often means linking with people who are different in thoughts, or are on a different path. That’s ok – diversity in connections can challenge your thinking, grow your creativity and encourage better outcomes through healthy debate.
When thinking about the connections that you want to build, consider these questions:
- Who are the people you would like to connect with?
- What are you willing to give to these connections, and what would you like in return?
- What are the common values or beliefs that you are looking to connect with?
- What type of people spark energy, creativity or positivity in you?
- Who could help challenge your thinking or perspectives?
How will this help me manage and lead?
What are the leadership reasons that you would want to focus on making connections? Well, great leaders have open minds – they love seeking other people’s input, exploring different perspectives and learning.
While you can read articles online, and there are positives in that, nothing is as impactful or thought provoking as a stimulating conversation with another human. Whether extrovert or introvert, we are all designed to connect in some way with others. Because collective is more powerful than singularity.
Here are some specific reasons that connections can be valuable to build:
- Learn – share ideas, see different ways of communicating, seek knowledge
- Celebrate – encouragement and congratulations, sharing joy
- Support – brainstorm solutions to challenges, motivate and inspire when times are tough
- Community – give back to others, create shared stories and memories, collaborative energy
Going it alone in leadership is not ideal. You will likely become stale, self-focussed and have your learning and growth stalled. Great leaders are always learning. Being open to making connections with others will support learning and challenge your thinking. Good outcomes will come from that. Even if you feel a bit vulnerable in connecting with others.
Do you fear reaching out to others?
Sometimes our fear holds us back from potentially great business connections. Fear that we have less experience than someone else, fear that they might reject our connection, fear that they might take advantage of us, fear that we won’t know what to say to someone…there are many things that can hold us back. There are also many things we can gain if we overcome that fear.
Overcoming fear takes time and commitment. You could ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” In this instance, though, I suggest instead asking yourself:
- From my work experiences, what is the best asset/perspective/contribution I can offer to others?
- What is one thing I would love to learn from someone else?
These questions simply get you thinking about the mutual benefits, and reminding yourself that all of us have something to offer others!
So what is important to making connections?
Firstly, if you are like me and cringe a little with the word – you don’t have to call it networking!
You don’t even have to go to those organised events. On the other hand, if you like getting together like that and are finding your people, that’s fabulous! Find a way that’s comfortable for you to meet new people or to grow an existing business relationship.
There are various ways to seek people out – it might be someone you meet at a function that you invite to a meeting, it might be a supplier to your business that you sit to have coffee with, it might be a colleague you discuss a project with, it might be welcoming a new team member.
Every day you interact with people that can connect with, and build a working relationship with. Don’t shy away from talking, inviting, sharing with someone who may be a like-mind, or a mind you’d like to connect with.
So many days we can feel too busy to make a phone call, send an email, or spend time in discussion. Yet these communications are often the starting point to meaningful connections, to growing our work community and support network. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort to make great connections with people in the workplace, or professional arena (or in life in general!).
Following ere are some tips for making great connections.
Put aside your own fears, thoughts about you, what you can learn, or what you can gain (yes that may sound counterintuitive to what I’ve been talking about re benefits of connecting, yet it’s not when it comes to the actual interacting).
Ask people about their story, ask them what challenges they are experiencing, ask them what they love about their work, what their professional interests are…
People generally like talking about themselves, yet there are three other reasons this can strengthen a connection:
- You may discover things in common, which creates a powerful platform from which to build longer term connection.
- Great questions can leave a big impact on the other person about your generosity, intelligence or empathy.
- Helping someone share their thoughts may actually enable them to articulate something they’ve been thinking about for a while.
All round, this is a win-win situation.
You must focus on the other person. Without being distracted by people walking past, your phone, or being lost in your own thoughts. Truly listen to the other person.
In this ‘busy’ word this is often easier said than done. Just be conscious of your mind, eyes or ears wandering off. As soon as you notice that, draw your attention back to the other person. Even if you don’t find the conversation stimulating, human courtesy is active listening.
People will feel valued if you focus genuinely and only on them.
Two things here – open in mindset and open in sharing.
Go into a discussion with an open mind; try not to let your preconceived assumptions or biases prevent you from having the best conversations possible. Put negative thoughts or beliefs aside and be open to what the other person has to say.
When it comes to being open in sharing, it’s not a case of over!sharing. Be professional, humble and respectful in what you share. Yet share a little of yourself at least.
Trust build when we get to know someone. We feel we have some connection if we know a little about another human. This builds trust over time. Some self-disclosure on both parties is important.
If you want to build connections, people value consistency. Don’t run ‘hot then cold’ as the mood takes you.
If your aim is for others to see you as a fellow learner, a potential collaborator, or a positive influence, then consistently bring the appropriate behaviours and words to your contact with them.
And consistently follow up – organise another catch up, send a thank you email after you’ve shared ideas, touch base regularly.
What works for you?
These are a few of the considerations and actions that will help us make great connections with others. What other things do you find are important to building and reinforcing purposeful and mutually beneficial connections?
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