Tyler Robinson is Chairman of Young Government Leaders, and Director of the Portfolio Risk & Reporting Division at the Export-Import Bank.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was probably 12 and at a football camp. Afterwards, my dad encouraged me to go up to the coaches and thank them. It was as simple as that, not asking them for anything, but an expression of appreciation.
What was I learning at this and other times this encouragement was given? It was a mini lesson on how to build a network. Building a network is a critical skill for everyone, and is particularly critical for managers. I don't come to this topic as someone who has perfected it, but as someone who has improved at it and met some amazing folks in my 5 years working in DC and being a part of Young Government Leaders.
It's Not About You
You have probably met someone where there is an intense feeling that they are just trying to figure out if you can help them and are worth the breath that they are using to talk to you. This is not typical, but many of us, from time to time behave, as if building a network is a one-way street, where it is all about what the network I build can do for me.
Fight this tendency, developing a strong network is as much about what you can do for them as it is what they can do for you. When you talk with someone, whether it is the first time or the 50th, keep in mind Dale Carnegie's all-important law of human conduct: "Always make the other person feel important."
For me as a child it was acknowledging the help the coach provided. Another way that is helpful to me is to ask questions about what the other person likes and actually listen to what they have to say. Listening is not the same thing as being quiet and thinking about what you are going to say next.
3 Places to Find This Network
Regardless of whether you are extremely outgoing or more introverted, building a network takes effort. The best networkers I know are intentional about developing new connections. There are three areas I would recommend for building your network:
- Find a mentor and be a mentor
- Find an affinity or employee resource group (ERG) in your agency
- Find a professional organization
One of the benefits of having a mentor is being able to discuss who else might be beneficial to talk with regarding a particular topic. In addition to having a mentor, find someone
mentor. A diverse network will have individuals at a variety of levels and being a mentor has many other benefits.
Related: Mentoring: Benefits for the mentorAffinity groups and ERGs are extremely valuable for being able to connect with others. This is especially the case when you are tasked with building a coalition. Building coalitions is one of OPM's Executive Core Qualifications and developing networks has been identified as a critical competency for this qualification. Besides being important for your executive development, these groups can also increase your satisfaction at work.
The biggest impact on my network has been my involvement with a professional organization. These organizations allow you to develop a network that goes beyond your agency. You never know when you will need to work with another agency or join another agency. One of the benefits of being in DC is the plethora of these organizations. My interests lined up well with YGL, which has chapters in 19 cities across the country, but for you it might be somewhere else.
It's Okay to Ask for Help
Focusing on others is import, but don't let that make you feel like you can't ask for help. Your network is a two-way street; there will be times when you need their help. The ratio of times you help versus being asked to help will change over time, but don't keep score.
One last lesson from childhood, treat others as you want them to treat you. If you have a network full of folks who behave this way, you can achieve many things together.