The right connections account for around 65% of all board appointments, so your connections really do count – but only if you can properly and appropriately ARTICULATE your offering and know WHO might be interested.
As a starting point I want to acknowledge that many struggle to, or are intimidated by, developing personal connections. That is understandable. However, one of the primary reasons for this is because they focus too much on what others can offer rather than what they themselves can offer.
As such, I want to look at HOW to develop and maintain these personal connections. As a first step it is important to have the right attitude when developing NED connections. If your motivation is to just gather information and connections you are not going to get far. In fact, this attitude will likely limit your opportunities. Instead, I recommend you develop a new mantra – ‘How can I help?’
In my previous article I wrote about your motivation – not only to build connections but also to find a board role. Today I would like to go deeper into the subject of developing the right connections by articulating what you have to offer.
I often mention the passion you should have for a board role. But what should you be passionate about? In truth, it does not really matter. Whether it is the passion you have for board work, the industry you are in, what you do outside of work or what you can contribute, all are equally appealing to a listener. The key lies in knowing what it is you love doing and how to explain it. I have seen many a hardened Chair softened by an inexperienced but passionate board member.
Your Mantra: How Can I Help?
This ‘How can I help?’ approach is incredibly powerful and I find that most successful NEDs take this tact. Why? Well, in asking how you can help, demonstrates an inquisitiveness (a powerful trait for a NED to have) and also a genuine desire to contribute (again a quality that good NEDs have). Beyond this it also allows you to endear yourself to those you meet and provides an excuse to stay in contact and generate new referrals. All critical elements that will help you develop board opportunities.
Perhaps one of the best ways to generate effective relationships is by having a ‘how can I help’ mantra. This means whenever you meet someone, your approach will be to help. To begin with this means finding out what they do and what their current challenges are. Asking questions is key. Once you know you can help, then begin to leverage this new knowledge.
I often find that the best way I can help is by introducing them to others who know more about a subject than I do, or someone who works in their industry but they don’t know. Taking this approach is the right thing to do and also presents a great excuse to keep in touch and to endear yourself to a powerful contact – building the right connections.
Surprisingly, studies have shown ‘successful’ leaders are not necessarily the most outgoing, gregarious, smartest or the ones with the strongest interpersonal skills. Instead, most successful leaders do one thing; they follow through. If they say they will do something, they do it.
Developing a professional reputation means that you must follow through on the promises you make while networking. For example, if you promised an introduction or to email through an article, make sure you do so.
Equally, the follow-up is as important as the follow through. If you made an introduction, then wait a week or two and follow it up. Ask both parties, individually, how they found the meeting and whether you can help any further. If it was an article you sent through, find out how it was received. You might be surprised what changes in a week.
Developing personal connections is not something everyone enjoys doing. In the end, just getting out there and meeting or connecting with new people will feel more comfortable if you do it regularly. Get in the habit of introducing yourself to others and offering to help in the knowledge that it can only get easier.
Make the Right Connections by Asking the Right Questions
Of course, just meeting with people won’t help you with your board aspirations unless you have a clear goal in mind. To help you capitalize on the opportunities you have, it is useful to have a couple of questions that stem from your ultimate goal of finding board opportunities. You should ask something like
- ‘Who do you know who I should know given my desire to build a board portfolio?’
- ‘Who do you know who I should know if I want to get onto a not-for-profit board?’ or
- ‘Who do you know who might know about developing a board career?’
I find this sort of questioning encompasses many outcomes you are hoping for when developing the right connections. It gives the conversation a purpose; it provides something to speak about; it provides an appropriate platform to address your curiosity and shows that you are genuinely interested in what they do. Most importantly, it clearly states your board aspirations.
If you are not using LinkedIn, then you need to start. That means getting connected and staying in touch with both your strong and weak ties. In the next article I will be going into more detail about the best ways to develop the right connections via LinkedIn.
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About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 29,000 connections. Email: [email protected]