Value in Networking – Learning to Lead

Sometimes it’s rough putting yourself out there. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is taking some pretty “mean girl” hits for saying that women are not doing enough to take on leadership roles; others are defending her. While I have not read her leadershipbook yet, I’ve seen some of the interviews with Sandberg. She makes a lot of valid points. Women think differently; we analyze and look at many different sides. Men often look at things straight on; compartmentalize their thoughts (or feelings) and make a decision focused solely on the prize or goal.

When women put themselves out there and take those leadership roles, sandbergthey are often bashed or called the “b” word. They lead by example and then they’re called “cold” and “calculating.” Women who let their talents speak for them are often passed over or left aside. They have to balance “tooting their own horn” with coming on too strong. This – I know.

A lot of success in the business world comes from networking. A lot of that networking happens by listening. I attended a symposium today focused on sustainability. There was so much information shared in less than four hours that my head continues to spin. I gathered many business cards and plan to follow-up on several different levels with people I met today. A LOT of what I did today was listen. While I did moderate a panel, it was important for me to really listen to the experts who were presenting their cases for sustainable communities and progress being made in their worlds.

It’s easy to jump to – “Well, how can MY business help?” It’s more important to listen and learn during these networking opportunities. Then follow-up during a less busy time with a suggestion for a morning coffee with someone or a lunch. Whatever is appropriate. One thing I did do immediately after returning back to the office was to write a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the people who I worked with on the panel. I admired their expertise; thanked them for their presentations and let them know that they certainly provided the standing-room-only crowd with a lot of food for thought.

Several years ago when I started by consulting business, I had a very difficult time in networking situations. I felt along; ill-informed; unable to measure up to other people and their expertise. Networking is like anything; practice makes perfect. While I never profess to be perfect at anything, I am comfortable in my own skin now. I feel confident in the work I do and what I can take on. I believe this, in part is what Sheryl Sandberg is trying to express to women today: Know yourself; let others know you. Learn your craft well and lead others in your field.

Toot Your Own Horn – Brag Without Bragging

A former boss of mine once told me “Brenda, you just don’t toot your own horn enough.” This is a boss I respected immensely – and still do today – for his knowledge of broadcast journalism and his ability  to get to the point, hone and craft talent and be a positive, professional force.

It’s a Noisy World

He was right; I did not toot my horn. I believed my work stood on its own merit and people would see the quality of that work. In today’s fast-paced world, you have to rise above all the noise that is out there. Today’s business world is all about tooting your horn and rising above the din of the junk that should NOT be recognized. The adage – ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’ applies today.

How many times have you seen a product, author, business owner, etc. quoted in the media and you wonder HOW did that person or product get so much coverage? Public relations is about tooting your horn in a positive way whenever possible. You can’t sound preachy or as if yours is the only opinion or thought that matter; you need to be credible, knowledgeable and confident in making the pitch.

I’m the best!

Convincing others that you are the expert is also about listening. When you are networking or at some sort of business-related function, how much time do you spend listening to other people’s business conundrums? You should be listening more than 50% of the time. You have to listen  carefully to hear any problems or issues; take notes when possible (or write things down as soon as possible) and connect by letting the person know you get it. That can be the hook; letting the person know you get it without going on about how you solved a problem in the best  – or worse – avoided getting into a similar problem. Responding by saying, “I can hear that your issues are at a critical stage; I have practical solutions and ideas that can help you,” lets the person know you heard what he/she said and you can help. Simply letting someone know YOU are the BEST in your field isn’t about the person and their business problem; a comment like that is all about YOU.

By listening, observing and understanding the depth of my own expertise, I’ve learned how to let people know I can help them. It’s about saying HOW I can help them; how I can take a load off their busy shoulders and how I can be a benefit to their organization for the long haul.