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The Networking Jerk

From the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz.

He is the man or is the woman with a martini in one hand, business cards in the other, and a prerehearsed elevator pitch always at the ready. He or she is a schmooze artist, eyes darting at every event in a constant search for a bigger fish to fry. He or she is the insincere, ruthlessly ambitious glad-hander you don't want to become.

The networking jerk is the image that many people have when they hear the word "networking." But in my book, this breed of hyper-Rolerdex-builder and card-counter fails to grasp the nuances of authentic connecting. Their shtick doesn't work because they don't know the first thing about creating meaningful relationships.

As I learned the hard way.

If you knew me as a younger man, you may not have liked me. I'm not sure I liked myself that much. I made all the classic mistakes of youth and insecurity. I was pretty much out for myself. I wore my unquenchable ambition on my sleeve, befriending those above me and ignoring my peers. Too often people put on one face with their subordinates, another with their boss, and another one yet with their friends.

When I became responsible for marketing at Deloitte, I suddenly had a lot of people reporting to me. I had some very big ideas about what I wanted to do--things that never had been done from a marketing standpoint in the world of consulting . And now finally I had a team with which to execute them. But instead of viewing my employees as partners to be wooded in achieving my long-term objectives and theirs, I saw them as called upon to carry out my tasks.

Add this to my young age (I was twenty years younger than any other member of the executive committee), and you can understand why the resistance among my staff was holding all of us back. Tasks that I thought should have taken hours ended up taking days. I knew I needed to do something, so I reached out to an executive coach, Nancy Badore, who had been coaching high-level CEO's before there was a name for such a thing.

The day of our first meeting, sitting in my office, we barely had a chance to exchange pleasantries before I blurted out, "What do I need to do to become a great leader?"

She looked around my office for a few moments and said nothing. When she finally spoke, it struck me to the core." "Keith, look at all the pictures on your wall. You talk about aspiring to become a great leader, and there's not one picture in your whole office of anybody but you: you with other famous people, you in famous places, you winning awards. There's not one picture in here of your team or of anything that might indicate what your team has accomplished that would lead anybody like me to know that you care for them as much as you care for yourself. Do you understand that it's your team's accomplishments, and what they do because of you, not for you, that will generate your mark as a leader?"

I was floored by her question. She was absolutely right. Had I shown the genuine concern I had for the lives my employees led outside of work? Why hadn't I made an effort to make them part of the leadership? I'd been doing it with my bosses from day one. I realized then my long-term success depended on everyone around me. That I worked for them as much as they worked for me!

Politicians understand this in a way too few executives grasp: We vote for the people we like and respect. Great companies are built by CEOs who inspire love and admiration. In today's world, mean guys finish last.

The bottom line is if you don't like someone, it's easier than ever to escape him. When you don't have others' interests at heart, people will find out sooner rather than later.

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