I’m a horrible networker. I’ll be the first to admit it.
What I think I’m pretty good at is creating meaningful relationships with a few people. To me, that is what networking should be. I’m not the guy at the dinner party that is bouncing from person to person, knows everyone’s name, and is the center of attention. More likely, I’m the guy sitting off to the side of the dinner party, having (what I think is) an interesting conversation with one other person. And then I’m pretty good at staying in touch with that one person and developing a relationship.
People reach out to me all the time for advice on getting into the NBA, so much so that I now have TWO blogs of advice. The reality for me is, I was lucky enough to get in because of one relationship that built for 20 years before the NBA became a possibility. I’m not going to go into details about that relationship, but please understand, I didn’t build the relationship with my mentor because I thought it would result in an NBA job one day. I built the relationship because the relationship was valuable to me, and it just HAPPENED to result in a job two decades later.
The first point is, a lot of what happens is out of your control. All you control is whether you are good at your current job now and whether you add value.
I hinted at this idea in my other blog, but I want to go into more detail now….
YOU NEED TO DO A LOT OF FAVORS.
Demonstrate (over and over again) that you add real value to a situation. You can’t just be a nice person and a hard worker, because the fact is there are thousands of those. You need to be a nice person, a hard worker, AND really good at your job. Then you need to start doing that job for free until someone wants to pay you to do it. Offer to help someone.
I volunteered for a University team in Canada for 9 years to gain experience. I worked for an NBA team one year, and the next year had to volunteer for a G-League team so that I had a chance to demonstrate that I did actually add value. I have friends in the NBA that left college head coaching jobs to volunteer for a G-League team, or took a significant pay cut and moved away from their family for a year to get their chance.
I get people offering to do what they think are favors for me, but they didn’t take much time or effort to think about how they can help. The most common mistake is that people offer to help me in a workout by rebounding for an NBA player. No one ever colunteers to help me rebound for a 12 year old at a clinic. Unfortunately, rebounding for the NBA player isn’t really helping me, it is helping the rebounder. In the NBA we have more than enough people to rebound, so what the person offering the “favor” is really (unknowingly) asking for is me to do them the favor of getting them in the gym with an NBA player. Invest a lot more energy into how you can actually help.
Commander Chris Hadfield was an astronaut that commanded the International Space Station. He talked in his book about being either a Zero, a +1, or a -1 when you are in a team situation. Everyone thinks you need to be a +1, but Hadfield explained that many times by trying to be a +1, you end up being an insufferable -1. These are the guys that are showing off how much they know, when surrounded by a team of people that know just as much or more. No one wants to be around that person. Instead, try to be a Zero. Help out where needed, do your job, help other people and be humble while doing it. These are people that others want to be around.
So as you “network”, understand that in the beginning the onus may be on the person at the bottom of the totem pole to develop the relationship. I get asked all the time to speak to people on the phone and offer advice, and I tell them all the same thing. I’m not going to call you next. In a month or so, you need to come up with a legitimate reason to call me, and you’ll need to remind me who you are, because I get a lot of these calls. But after a couple times talking, I’ll start to remember who you are, and a relationship will start to form. Then, hopefully, you’ve done a couple of small favors and one day down the road an opportunity might come up that fits perfectly in your skill set and I will think of you. My opportunity took 20 years to come, but thankfully it wasn’t the reason I built the relationship. It was an added bonus.
Unfortunately, most people that ask to “network” with me, whether they realize it or not, are hoping that it will result in a job after a couple of calls, and when it doesn’t they stop calling. Building a relationship is hard work. As any married couple.
So do one of two things…
1. Invest in relationships that you actually care about, not hoping for a particular outcome.
2. Do enough favors for enough people that you become invaluable to someone.