By Keith Ferrazzi
#1: You Can't Get There Alone
For each and every thing you want to achieve in life -- whether it's landing a job, earning a raise or promotion or finding lifelong romance -- there will be at least one person on the other end deciding whether you will achieve it and probably more than one person contributing to your cause. Everything we do can only be accomplished through and with other people. And since success of any kind requires relationships, the first thing you must realize is that you can't get there alone.
I started at the bottom, born the son of a steelworker and a cleaning lady in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. As a kid, I carried the golf bags of the local rich and famous as a caddy at the Latrobe Country Club. While the job didn't pay much, the lessons I learned there have proven to be more valuable than gold.
I discovered that there really was an old boys' and girls' network. This network helped wealthy kids get the great internships, helped friends get interviews for prime jobs and lent money to start businesses. There was no end to the offers extended and favors accepted at that golf course. You could just tell that each member wanted to help all the other members be more successful. Some caddies saw this culture of generosity and were content as voyeurs, watching from the outside. Not me.
The Path to Success
For me, the path to success was as clear as reading that uphill break left on the third green. I started taking mental notes and have zealously been building close, genuine, personal relationships for mutual success ever since. Some of the highlights from my resume suggest the effort has paid off:
- BA from Yale University.
- MBA from Harvard Business School.
- Chief marketing officer and youngest person to be tapped for partner at Deloitte Consulting.
- Youngest CMO in the Fortune 500 upon joining Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
- CEO of YaYa, a pioneer in the creation of online games as advertising vehicles.
- Founder and CEO of FerrazziGreenlight, a consulting and training company.
- Author of national best-selling book Never Eat Alone.
But what my resume fails to show -- as yours probably does, too -- are the names of all the generous people who helped me along the way. I wouldn't have gone to Yale if my father didn't have the audacity to ask the CEO of his company (my dad's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss), whom he had not previously met, to get me into an amazing elementary school. I wouldn't have attended Harvard if Elsie Hillman hadn't lent me money for business school. I wouldn't have been so successful at Deloitte if then-CEO Pat Loconto hadn't cared so deeply about my growth and development. The list goes on and on.
Your resume, your list of wonderful people who made you a success and your overall happiness can grow endlessly too if you'll adopt the proper relationship mind-set.
No More Rugged Individualism
You'll have to throw out many of the things you've been taught in the past, like that fantasy of John Wayne-style rugged individualism leading you to your dreams. You'll have to throw out that prideful "I don't want anything I don't earn myself" BS. And you'll have to believe that a broad web of genuine, intimate relationships with colleagues, friends and mentors will be the most valuable thing you can create for your career, your company, your family and indeed, your entire life.
You can't get there alone. But you can get there. Oh yes, if a country kid from Pennsylvania can make it, so can you.
#2: Make Business Relationships Personal
The most common mistake people make when building relationships for success is treating business contacts differently than personal friends.
Just think for a moment about the people you work with on a professional level who are also close, personal friends. Aren't they always more forgiving when you slip up and more helpful when you're in need? Of course! I guarantee your work will become easier and more joyful if you make more of your business relationships personal.
Show Them You're Human
How to do it? The same way you make genuine friends outside of work. Build trust through intimacy. Show them that besides being professional, you're also human. Skip the small talk, and go deep into what really matters -- your interests and passions, your struggles and frustrations. And don't think for a moment that they'll think less of you for showing that kind of vulnerability. In fact, usually the opposite happens.
When I tell people about my humble beginnings and how it took me so long to overcome my insecurities of being poor and getting picked on by kids from more well-to-do families, people don't think less of me. They immediately empathize and feel more endeared to me than ever before. All you have to do is let your guard down and show enough vulnerability to make others comfortable with opening up to you.
So remember: Business relationships are personal relationships. From getting a raise to finding romance, the same rules apply.
Mix Your Business and Personal Lives
Don't stop with treating business friends as personal friends, though. Be sure to mix them, too.
Someone said to me recently, "Gee, I only have one night in New York. It's too bad I can't see Potential Future Employer A, because I should really see Client B instead."
My response: "Nonsense! Invite both people out! And by the way, you've been single too long, so invite a date along, too!"
My friend thought of limitations, whereas I saw a great opportunity. It's a chance to be face-to-face with two people who are critical to your success. Plus, you're not the only one who can be helpful to your client! You'll be surprised how your other clients, contacts or personal friends can help them also. You can keep up your personal life by including a date, a significant other or a few good, fun friends. Most important, such an amalgam of associates always makes for a much more robust, fun and personal conversation.
Blur the Boundaries
No, you probably won't have a chance to get your five bullet points out about why you're better for the job than the next guy or why your firm's services are better than the competition's, but that's really not as unfortunate as you think. Those bullet points aren't going to make a lick of difference when someone is deciding who to hire or what to buy. It's the personal, human relationship that really matters.
We all have more opportunities than we realize to overlap our personal and professional lives and to make more of our business relationships personal ones. Don't compartmentalize; blur the boundaries! You'll have more fun, enrich your relationships and do more in less time for your success and happiness in all three parts of your life.
#3: Find Your Blue Flame to Heat Up Your Career
Every successful person I've met got where they are today by taking the same first step: Deciding what they want in life. I learned early on that the bigger my dreams, the more concrete my goals and the more targeted my efforts to build relationships, the greater success I could achieve.
As a Yale undergrad, I decided that I wanted to become a politician, specifically a future governor of Pennsylvania. (I really was that specific and that naive.) In my sophomore year, I became chairman of Yale's political union, where so many alumni had cut their teeth before going on to careers in politics. When I became interested in joining a fraternity, I didn't simply join the first organization available to me. I researched which fraternity had the most active politicians as alumni. Sigma Chi had a rich tradition and an alumni roster of impressive leaders. But the fraternity wasn't chartered at Yale at that time. So we founded a chapter.
Eventually I ran for New Haven city council. I lost, but in the process met everyone from William F. Buckley and governor of Pennsylvania Dick Thornburg to the president of Yale, Bart Giamatti. I made regular visits to see Bart up until he died; he was a virtual oracle of advice and contacts for me. Even then, I recognized how something as simple as a clearly defined goal distinguished me from all those who simply floated through school waiting for things to happen.
The better you articulate what you want to do, the easier it becomes to develop a strategy to accomplish it. Part of that strategy, of course, is establishing relationships with the right people who can help you get where you're going. But you must know where you're headed first, so do the following in this order:
Find your Blue Flame
Devote time to thinking about what you're good at, what you really love to do and what you feel your purpose is in this world. That intersection of desire and talent, or passion and ability, is what I call your Blue Flame. Write, pray, exercise or do whatever you need to do to clear your head and figure this stuff out. I enjoy great results with Vipassana meditation. The important thing is to think and talk through this without the constraints, doubts, fears and expectations of what you "should" be doing. Set aside the obstacles of time, money and obligation, and find your Blue Flame.
And don't feel intimidated by the thought of your current Blue Flame being your one and only. It probably won't be your last. In fact, it might change several times in your lifetime. However, to more effectively build relationships for career growth, it's best if you put a stake in the ground wherever you're at and get moving from there.
Have a Good RAP
Once you have a Blue Flame, you have to set goals that will help you fulfill your mission, connect those goals to the people, places and things that will help you succeed, and determine the best way to reach out to your target contacts. You need a Relationship Action Plan (RAP).
For 10 years, three years, one year, and 60 days into the future, do the following:
- Write down your goals.
- Beside each goal, write the names and types of people who can help you achieve them.
- Note how you can best reach those people.
- Last but not least, think of and write down all the ways you can also contribute to their success.
Do this, and you will have planned all the way from your greatest dreams down to the names of flesh-and-blood people you need to meet and how you're going to meet them. This is the process -- the system, if you will -- involved in building a powerful network. It's not magical; it's not reserved for a select few born with an inherent gift for being social. Connecting with others for mutual success really just involves making a predetermined plan and carrying it out, whether you want to be a ninth-grade history teacher or start your own business.
#4: Build It Before You Need It
I can't tell you how many times a friend has called me and said: "Keith, I just became unemployed. I need to start networking. Will you teach me how?"
My answer: "No. No. No. You need to start job hunting! You should have been building relationships for the past five or 10 years so now that you need a job, you could make 20 calls to people in your strong and thriving network and have five job offers waiting for you in a week."
If you don't want to experience the feeling of being unemployed and having nowhere to turn other than job sites like Monster, the best advice I can offer is: Build it before you need it. Think of the relationships you'll need tomorrow, and start building them today.
My first year in business school, I started consulting with my friend Tad Smith, who is now president of the media division at the large magazine publishing company Reed Business Information. The idea wasn't to create a sustainable consulting company that we would run after school. Instead, we wanted to offer our knowledge and work ethic to small companies for cut-rate prices. In exchange, we'd learn about new industries, gain real-world skills and have a list of references and contacts when we graduated as well as make some ready cash.
Create Your Own Community
Right now, there are countless ways you can begin to create the kind of community that can help further your career:
- Create a company-approved project that will force you to learn new skills and introduce you to new people within your company.
- Take on leadership positions within the hobbies and outside organizations that interest you.
- Join your local alumni club, and spend time with people who are doing the jobs you'd like to be doing.
- Enroll in a class at a community college on a subject that relates to either the job you're doing now or one you see yourself doing in the future.
All of these suggestions will help you meet new people. And the laws of probability ensure that the more new people you know in the circles in which you want to work and play, the more great opportunities will come your way and the more help you'll get at critical junctures in your career.
Forget Desperate Networking
It's time you forget the images we all have in our heads of the desperate, out-of-work individuals scooping up every business card in sight while fervently mingling at business conventions and job-hunting events. The great myth of networking is that you start reaching out to others only when you need something -- like a job. In reality, people who have the largest circle of contacts, mentors and friends know that you must reach out to others long before you need anything at all.