The Relationships that Everyone Needs in their Network

If you’re starting a business, wanting a raise, looking for a new career or just wanting to up your game, you’ll need to increase the value of your network.

The ONE Thing author Gary Keller has believed in this concept his entire life.  As he explains in his course Quantum Leap, “You need people more than they need you. No one ever achieves their true maximum potential alone.”

The people you know are the people that help you grow. Gary talks about the importance of this as well. He said, “If you care about who your kids are hanging out with, then why don’t you care about the people you’re hanging out with? We understand how our children’s friends influence and shape the way our own kids think and act, why do we think it’s different with us?”

Being able to discern who is going to help us grow and who is going to hold us back is important. It isn’t a good idea to just run out and find the five richest, coolest, smartest or well-connected people. That’s acting entrepreneurially, not purposefully. Each person in your network should serve a specific purpose that brings a new piece of self-improvement to the table.

The Varsity Coach

Many of us can relate to having a coach at some point in our lives who took amateur sports too seriously. They screamed when we missed a basket, their neck veins popped when we struck out, and no matter what, they always seemed to ride us so we never stopped running laps.

They were rough, sure, but they kept us motivated with tough love. They also taught us how to thrive with a ‘fail fast’ mentality. Whenever we missed a target or goal, they would send you off on drills that would correct the mistake our next time up. Or, they would continue to put us in the same situation until our results improved.

People who fit the varsity coach stereotype can be incredible motivators for our lives and businesses. Everything in sports and business is learning, failing, reorganizing and trying again. When the game gets tough, these are the types of people you want to have in your corner.

A retired head of the De La Salle Spartans named Bob Ladouceur (aka “Coach Lad”) had a similar philosophy that resulted in one of the longest winning streak in sports history. He once said in a team meeting, “I’m focused one hundred percent on you guys as a team. I want you to become what you’re capable of becoming. It has nothing to do with wins.” He cares more about talking about the mistakes his players make. “It’s all about teachable moments,” he said, “and being aware of teachable moments when they occur.” He has no shortage of raw material. “The fortunate thing about having 50 kids: There’s a teachable moment every day.”

The beauty of Coach Lad or any other varsity-type coach is that they can give you tough advice and they call out our weaknesses without causing us to become apprehensive. That’s because we know they aren’t coming from a place of vain judgment—it’s coming from a desire for improvement and excellence. They are the best people for rousing us to reach beyond our potential, regardless of our preconceived limits. The coach doesn’t care that we’re tired, that we have a ton of work to do—they want us in the game giving 110 percent.

The Wise Mentor

Wise mentors greatly differ from varsity-coaches. You’ll never find their veins popping out of their foreheads while yelling “hustle!” Wise mentors are slower to voice their opinion and more considerate when offering advice. Ideally, they’re someone who has been in our shoes, fought similar battles and came out with some incredible insight. They are the ones who exemplify what is possible and help us get there too.

Seeking the guidance of a wise mentor or two could be one of the best decisions you will ever make—many very successful people owe a lot of their success to their mentors. The word “mentor” has an interesting origin story. It comes from Homer’s Odyssey when Mentor (who is secretly the goddess Athena in disguise) helps Telemachus overcome obstacles to meet his long lost father.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—one of the most successful women in business and technology today—has always known the importance of a good mentor. She attributes a lot of her good choices in life to her former professor, Larry Summers who she ended up working for at the World Bank and the Treasury Department. She has gone on many interviews and has called him her first and most important mentor.

Author and entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi also speaks to the importance of mentors in his life. Unlike Sandberg, Ferrazzi didn’t naturally land a wise mentor type. Instead, he spent his time developing a world-class network full of incredible people. But, he ran into a problem. He writes about it in his latest book, Who’s Got Your Back:

“The Help they could give me was relegated to a call here or a coffee there – dribs and drabs. I didn’t have anyone in my life whom I could turn to at any time for a completely candid, no-holds-barred discussion of what was really going on in my life and my business. I hadn’t established the kind of close, deep relationships with a few key people who would do whatever it took to make sure I never failed, and for whom I would do the same.”

Ferrazi realized that the mentor held a distinct role in his network—it was someone who he looked up to and wanted to be like someday.

Your mentor may be in your network already—you may just need to dedicate the time to find them.

The Allied Resource

Your allies get you, but more importantly, they get “it”. The ally will most likely be a person who is a part of our peer group. around our age and holds similar goals. Because of that, they understand your grind, struggle, feelings of rejection and triumph.

Allies are there for support. They are people who will go out of their way to help us and proactively think about our best interests. Whenever we’re in a bind, we can call on them and they’ll come running to our side. Having an ally (or a few) around us helps remind us why we do what we do in the first place. When we grind away with an ally, we double our capacity to handle what comes our way, keeping us fit and motivated for the road ahead.

When allies stick together, great innovation happens. Consider Paris just after World War I. Great thinkers, musicians, philosophers, artists and writers coalesced and spurned creativity. Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and Ezra Pound (just to name a few) found solace, comradery and inspiration in their fellow allies.

Find yourself an ally and you won’t feel alone in your quest!

The Mega-Connector

This person seems to know everyone. They are the center of every party, organizer of every event and an endless source of LinkedIn connections.

The mega-connector will not always be your closest ally, and they might not know us as intimately as we wish they did. But, that isn’t the mega-connector’s main objective — they care more about the number of people they know, not how well they know them. And that’s okay, being close to a mega-connector isn’t the reason we want them in our network. We want them in our network because of their ability to create introductions.  We never know who we might meet — our next partner, significant other, or big client could be swimming somewhere around in their world.

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler talk about the role mega-connectors play in their book Connected. When humans were still primal, having the ability to spread information quickly meant the difference between survival and getting killed by a predator. Playing the role of a “town crier” was extremely important. Similarly, mega-connectors make a difference in the lives of others via the information they are able to circulate. By becoming a social hub, they in turn act as a post office for our lives, sending and receiving the information we need to others.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the importance of hubs (or “connectors”) in his book Outliers:

“These people who link us up in the world…who introduce us to our social circles – these people on whom we rely more heavily than we realize – are Connectors, people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”

Not only to mega-connectors serve as a bulletin board, they also create situations where our own networks can expand by exposing us to social circles we were previously unaware of. Being connected to a hub is the faster way for you to get closer to the center of a new social network and thus have the ability to meet more people.

The Challenger

This person is always there when we need a swift kick in the butt. We all need people in our lives that will help us think outside the box and break through our echo-chambers, and that’s where this person thrives. They say things like “I don’t agree” or “so what?” unapologetically.  They won’t nod their head in agreement as we lay out our next plan. They’ll challenge us to reconsider. They will dissent. And, as long as they do it without ego, and with respect, we should thank them.

In business, this attribute is often referred to as a “Black Hat.” (Coined by author Edward de Bono in his book Six Thinking Hats.) This is a person who helps others by being the devil’s advocate. By pointing out what might go wrong, challengers leave us better prepared to tackle problems before they arise because they can easily point them out and consider them ahead of time.

Abraham Lincoln knew of the importance of keeping challengers around. In fact, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a whole book about it called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln became president in a time of intense internal strife in America. Succession seemed inevitable and war loomed. He realized he needed to solidify his party and his people, so he did something strange for the time. When he won the presidential election of 1860, he appointed his competition to his Cabinet. William H. Seward, the New York Senator became Secretary of State, Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase became Secretary of the Treasury, and Missouri statesman, Edward Bates became the Attorney General.

Not only were these men political rivals, representing the spectrum of the newly formed Republican Party, but they were also enemies. Their personalities and dispositions did not jive and led to a lot of infighting and sulking. However, Lincoln did this because the political and public climate was tenuous. He knew he needed to hear all voices instead of just those sympathetic to his cause. Because he listened to those challenging his opinions, he was able to see his blind-spots.

Challenge and dissent is good, but don’t forget to challenge the challenger. Although Lincoln absorbed the opinions of his team of rivals, he ultimately decided for himself what he should do. Ttake note: just because people have opinions that are different than yours, doesn’t mean they are right or wrong. Lincoln knew this. He knew opinions were just information he could use to inform his decisions. He wanted to make the ultimate informed decision, and so should you.

Add Some Names to Your Network

You can find any of these people right under your nose. Evaluate your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, family or friends of friends. You may have overlooked someone who was a great challenger because they were too quick to argue with you. You may not have missed a great coach because you wanted to protect your feelings. Most likely, these people are right in front of you, but you never realized it because you didn’t know what to look for.

If your current network isn’t revealing any good leads, it’s time to look outward. Search for good people at organized networking events, in mentoring groups or online. LinkedIn’s new feature, Career Advice was designed to help you match with a group of people that are there to help you.

Also, networking events are still a thing. Search for an event to go to and be on the lookout for network groups, who encourage and teach each other to make substantial connections. Who knows, they may even lead you to the White House.

We Need Each Other

Martin A. Nowak, the director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard, wrote a book wrote a book entitled SuperCooperators. He argues that humans are where we are as a direct effect of cooperation, which has enabled us to evolve and succeed. The tribes we put ourselves in and the people we spend time with will determine your success and your evolution. Make sure you get them right!

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