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  • Kathleen Phelps

Leading Your Own Career Part II: Building Relationships—“Activity generates activity”

Excerpt from my session at the Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT Conference, May 12, 2016 in Boston.

I was fortunate to have worked for a large mutual fund company throughout most of my 30’s. I was extra-fortunate to have worked in several different geographic locations over the course of ten years, and I moved between functions—Employee Relations, Staffing, Leadership Development, and for a time Product Management, where I was able to interact with a completely different crowd.

One of the lasting benefits from my time there? Almost everyone I ever worked with, now works somewhere else. A significant portion of my coaching and consulting business has been built via referrals from former colleagues—many of whom I worked with over ten years ago.

What is encouraging is that this is easier to do than ever. I regularly Skype with colleagues from London, St. Louis, and LA. I keep track of former clients and colleagues from around the world via LinkedIn. I blog regularly and share articles I think would interest my network—sometimes I share them broadly, sometimes I send something very specific to just one or two people based on what I know they are interested in and care about.

In addition, I attend professional association meetings where I will see people I know. These are some of the ways I actively maintain relationships.

Sure it takes time, but I have stopped viewing it as an extra or a “nice to do” and now know it is part of my job… and I encourage you to believe that it is part of your job too.

Being able to connect with others in your field is good for both you and your company

. You learn how others are approaching challenges and maximizing opportunities, enabling you to bring a broader perspective to your organization—which increases your value.

You have heard the maxim, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Like it or not, there is truth in this. Your value is enhanced by who you know, and how you can make connections for yourself and others.

You need time and space for this—and you need to be playing a long game.

One of my early mentors, a lovely Irish woman named Eithne, when encouraging our business development team to meet our goals, used to sayActivity generates activity.” Though this requires a level of trust, it has always stuck with me.

You may not see a direct cause and effect from your efforts initially. The meetings that you think will be the most fruitful, frequently are not. The conversations you think may be a waste of time, often yield unexpected rewards. If you are playing the long game, if you believe that positive energy out ultimately results in positive energy returning, you’ll do fine here. Pay it forward.

When I was a partner at an executive transition firm, we often saw that it was the network one-degree removed from our client, their best friend’s neighbor for example, or their former colleague’s last boss, who ended up being the most helpful to them as they explored what was next. The “one level removeds” are far enough away to view you objectively, and because you have someone in common they care about being perceived as helpful. Respectfully leverage that social capital.

An often quoted statistic is that 70-80% of new positions are obtained via networking (not search firms—that number is closer to 20 or 30% at the executive level). People recommend—and hire—people they know and trust, people they’ve thought things through with, people with whom they have shared their stories—both their accomplishments and their challenges.

Make an effort to stay connected. Be of service to others. The people that decision makers or connectors will be thinking about the next time they have, or hear about, an opportunity will be the people they have been reminded of most recently.

Lastly, make sure that people have a consistent experience of you—that you show up in person the way you present yourself in your resume, bio, or LinkedIn profile. Think about what you want to be known for and make sure that comes through in all of your interactions.

Leaders who deliberately manage their own career never stop developing and maintaining relationships.

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