Last month, I closed my post Great Leaders Need Great Followers with a comment about the importance of “developing your own network of people whose judgment and discretion you can rely on.” Let’s expand on that thought.
You should develop your own network because it is crucial to your success. You cannot do it alone! Nearly every successful person I know has a network of people that contributes to their success.
I just returned from Orlando and the ACC Annual Meeting where networking has long been recognized as one of its prime attractions. As the annual meeting logo states, it is “where in-house counsel connect.” ACC members return year after year for the education and the opportunity to interact with their in-house peers. The more than 100 programs even included a session on managing your career. Among other things, ACC President Veta T. Richardson noted that “networking skills can be taught and you can practice those skills.”
I offer a few simple suggestions about networking that I have learned over the years:
- Be a good listener — People value those who listen. Most folks do not like a “know it all” who dominates a conversation. Also, you will not learn very much if your mouth is always open. If it is “all about me,” your network will likely be very limited.
- Have an “elevator speech”— This is especially important if you are inexperienced or meeting someone for the first time. Always be prepared with what you want to say or ask, and be concise.
- Practice — Like the previous tip, this can be especially valuable if you are inexperienced or shy. Identify a topic and practice beforehand.
- Ask — Sometimes, all you need to do is reach out to someone and ask the question. You will be surprised by how many people are willing to help others, especially when approached the right way.
- Say thank you — Everyone likes to be appreciated and recognized. If someone helps you or even spends time with you, say thank you. Depending on the circumstances, this may be done publicly or privately. Either way, it is a simple gesture that is frequently forgotten.
- Know how to respond to a compliment — When you receive a “shout out,” the best response generally is to express appreciation for the recognition and acknowledge others who helped you.
- Give, don’t just take — Be helpful. I remember those who helped me, and I will gladly return the favor if I can. If you always seek favors, your network will shrink.
Personally, I can cite numerous examples of how I have been helped over the years. My network has:
- Answered questions — I would frequently reach out to peers and ACC members to get advice on how to solve a problem, start a new program, find outside counsel or simply where to begin when something new came across my desk.
- Served as a sounding board — Sometimes, I need to think out loud. Having someone outside the office with a fresh perspective can be invaluable.
- Mentored me — I am truly fortunate in that I had several ACC leaders who took the time and effort to provide me with wise counsel and advice long after they left office. It is always helpful to have someone who is vested in your success.
- Kept me informed and up to date — I cannot come close to counting the number of times I learned something from a conversation or note that kept me in the loop.
- Provided exposure — Attending conferences led to opportunities that enabled me to advance ACC’s agenda.
- Offered support in tough times — Like everyone else, I have had to deal with some bumps in the road. Whether professional career challenges or personal health issues, I received support frequently from unexpected places that helped me to carry on.
- Told me about job opportunities — I have been an in-house lawyer, private practitioner, lobbyist for a business organization and, until last year, President of ACC. In every instance, I learned about the job opportunity through my network. Indeed, I likely would not have become President of ACC but for a friend telling me about the opening and urging me to apply.
- Given me an opportunity to repay those who have helped me — What goes around comes around! The satisfaction from helping another coming along in our profession is reason enough to work actively at networking and remain in touch with colleagues new and old.
As I said, you cannot do it alone! And it is foolish to try.
ACC made “30 in 30”— it passed the 30,000 member threshold as it celebrates 30 years of service to the in-house community. It truly is “where in-house counsel connect” — use it to advance your career.
*This is a slightly revised version of a column that first appeared online in the October edition of Canadian Lawyer InHouse .