I just finished an excellent article about getting ahead and wish that someone had clued me in at the beginning of my work life. Brenda Wensil and Kathryn Heath of Flynn Heath Holt Leadership offer four helpful tips that pretty much anyone (men, too) can use to build relationships. And make no mistake, building relationships is what a successful career is all about.
As the authors put it, “There are typically two ways to get things done professionally. One way is explicit, established and formalized … The other way is informal, highly nuanced and relationship based.” They note that both ways are important but the women they see in their coaching practice “overwhelmingly struggle more than men to take advantage of informal networking situations.” They add that the problem is systemic: women are often not invited to join their male peers after work. (Perhaps less surprising in the era of #MeToo than before.)
Given this scenario, how do women move their careers forward effectively and with relative grace? The word “grace” is, in my opinion, key. And I would also add that grace is equally important for men.
On to the four tips, though.
Wensil and Heath recommend that you leverage informal norms. That is, know how your company culture operates and act accordingly. For example, if your company isn’t big on calendared get-togethers, try bumping into (my term) the executive VP of your division in the line at Starbuck’s before heading into work. Try putting your skills at observation to work. At the next staff meeting, see who hangs out with whom. Even if you aren’t a part of that group, it’s helpful to know who’s connected and what they’re saying to each other. The authors also recommend tuning into what potential connections are saying on the social media.
Many women work a “second shift” and have very little time to spare, so they need to make meaningless time more meaningful. Wensil and Heath recommend arriving at meetings five minutes early and talking to the others who show up early or even arriving early at work every morning and chatting with those you meet as you walk around the building. This is a great way to find out what’s going on. I add that you’re catching people early in the day when they may be more in a mood to confide than later. The authors’ point? Use your time wisely make connections.
Network in a way that’s comfortable. Don’t force yourself to learn a skill, such as golf, if it bores you silly or makes you antsy. Figure out what you like and invite some of your colleagues along just to have a good time. (For more formal company events, the authors counsel introverts to team up with a co-worker and work the room in pairs. It’s always good to have a wing man or woman.)
Don’t hide, or as they put it, face forward. Put your phone in your purse if you carry one or your pocket if you don’t, and engage with others wherever you may be. “Simply being fully present will help you make many more crucial connections.”
I live in the start-up capital of northern Silicon Valley—San Mateo—and often walk downtown from my office around lunch time. Interesting observation: tons of men are out on the streets, all chatting each other up. Happily, I see quite a few young women in their number, and I wonder what they would have to say about how their careers are going.