Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Keep connecting, part of Executive Leadership.
- Back when Jeff Bezos started Amazon.com as an online bookstore, people were not comfortable buying on the internet. Today's security measures weren't in place, and people weren't used to giving away their credit card numbers without going to a physical store or seeing someone in person they could confront if there was an issue. It was new. It was scary. Under those conditions, and not only that, but without any press or any advertising, here's a question. Out of the 50 states in the USA, how many would you guess Amazon.com sold books in during its first 30 days in business? A few, a dozen? That's the most people typically guess when I ask this question in seminars.
The answer, all 50 states and 45 countries. How? Well Bezos simply informed 300 people he knew about the business and asked them to spread the word. Because of the strength of those relationships he cultivated long before he needed them, it only took 300 people doing a simple favor for someone they trusted to trigger a massive multiplier effect. Now 300 is not a large number. It's the size of a typical MBA class. If you're a working adult, chances are you've connected with many thousands of people in your life already.
The key is that Bezos worked to build robust relationships proactively. He got into the habit of building a strong, diverse network earlier in his career and kept it up. He didn't know that years later he'd be starting Amazon.com. Nobody even knew that there would be such a thing as the internet. But he did know this, in the face of a future that's guaranteed to be uncertain, one thing that is certain is that better relationships will make that future better. The best executive leaders keep connecting and building relationships with people.
People senior to them, junior to them, and with peers. Follow their lead. In your network over time fill all three levels with strong relationships of diverse people. People with different backgrounds, perspectives, ways of thinking, and people from different countries and cultures. For each level ask yourself, how many strong, trusting relationships do I have at this level? Do I also have a broad, diverse mix of other connections and acquaintances, people likely to respond positively if I reach out to them? Use your answers to set priorities for yourself to continue building strong relationships.
Here's some other steps to take at each level. People senior to you. Connect with people who are older or more experienced than you and gain their insights and wisdom. I strongly recommend you build a personal board of advisors of four or more mentors who will advise, coach, encourage, and stand up for you. Actively recruit them with confidence, keeping in mind that at that stage of life and career the best leaders are looking to give back to people like you. If you don't sense chemistry, move on, keep at it, and you'll find the right ones.
Each of the relationships is unique, so build and grow each accordingly. You don't actually convene them as a group, but you do want to meet with each of them regularly. You want to share what's happening for you in work and life, and ask for their thoughts. Try to see each of them at least every three months. People junior to you. My friend Gina Rudan, Hall of Fame award winner for the National Association of Women's Business Owners has a catchy label for younger people. She calls them fat brains because studies show they have more fat content in their brains than people at later ages.
Gina says that everyone should have several fat brains in their lives. She herself has over a dozen she considers good friends and reverse mentors. She says fat brains are young, energetic, committed, forward-thinking people who teach her how they think, work, see life, and understand trends, music, technology, problem-solving, social media, and how to combine work and play. What have you learned lately from fat brains? Make it a habit. Peers. Having a core group of supportive peers outside the politics of your own firm is a solid best practice.
I like how marketing innovator Seth Godin described such a group. "There are people who will push you in exchange "for being pushed who will raise the bar "and tell you the truth." I agree that working on your goals on a regular schedule with a group of three to 12 peers who will both encourage you and hold you accountable as Godin says might be the single biggest boost your career can experience. Executives do this, and you don't need to wait until then to begin the process and accelerate your progress. Finally, for all three levels be sure to connect with people who are unlike you.
Before Mary Erdoes became CEO of JP Morgan Asset Management, consistently ranked as one of the world's most powerful leaders with over $2.3 trillion in client assets, she was made co-CEO earlier in her career with a person she calls her exact opposite. She avoided him and an adviser said, you're missing the point. You're supposed to be learning from him. Move your office next to him, go out for a beer, make it happen. She did, and 10 years later she said, he's the person who shaped her career the most.
She says she talks about him in every forum because it's such a crucial lesson for leaders. Put it into action. Keep connecting with seniors, juniors, and peers, including some exact opposites who might be exactly what you need for executive success.
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- Understanding the four disciplines of executive leadership
- Thinking strategically
- Creating shared purpose
- Inspiring confidence—even under pressure
- Motivating and communicating
- Establishing priorities and focus
- Leading change
- Developing yourself<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.