“Stop right there,” she said. “I’m in.”
I was dumbfounded that Ronee Hagen, CEO of PGI, Inc. (a Blackstone Company), had just agreed to join us as our CEO guest at a Signature Program. It was 2013. I had been introduced to her only a few weeks before by a mutual contact who thought we might hit it off with a joint passion for developing more women leaders. But I was just a new entrepreneur starting to gather some momentum and Ronee was the CEO of a company with over $7B in revenue.
But her response wasn’t luck.
The foundation for this successful conversation had started years before that call.
Since then, Ronee has served as faculty for seven of my programs, ushered me into conversations with three new clients, and helped me expand my impact on women leaders by inviting me to be a Founding Member of Paradigm for Parity.
I am often asked how I have built such a powerful network, full of thousands of executives at top global companies. My answer is networks are simply “connected people”, built one relationship at a time. Today, these connections, like Ronee Hagen, will do things like volunteer their time to serve as faculty at a Signature Program, provide counsel to a Signature graduate they’ve never met, or introduce me to a friend to expand our networks. These are just some of the benefits I’ve gained from maintaining strong connections with the right people. The “right people” are not identified by their titles. They are people who are genuine, supportive, and mutually helpful, even if that means recommending a great doctor in a time of need.
We all know that building a network is important, but it can be daunting to think about how. Where should you start? Who should you connect with? If I think back on how I got started, my approach was to take one step at a time. You might imagine climbing a set of network stairs. Based on my experience, I have identified 5 levels of connections to build during your career. All types of relationships will be important to help you achieve success in leadership and life, but this visual may help you choose where to start.
The horizontal axis shows your career over time. This will help you hone in on the types of relationships you should be building as you progress in your career. Over time, your network will expand. You never have to lose the connections you started with, unless you choose to (more on this in a future blog). As we move up the vertical axis, we move from operationally-focused to strategically-focused connections. And the shading indicates those connections that are internal vs. those that are external. Both will provide invaluable benefits to your career.
The relationships I built early in my career within the first 3 levels have transformed into my extended network of external peers and personal Board of Advisors. My Board of Advisors is the reason Signature Leaders got off the ground in 2013. One of my Advisors was the person who introduced me to Ronee.
I love having a visual for where I am going. No matter where you are in your career, you can focus on the next level of relationships you need to continue building your network. With my next blog, I’ll explain HOW to start connecting. I’ll share my approach to building relationships one at a time and how they turn into a wonderful, strategic asset, your network. Anyone can follow my approach. If you integrate it into your day and create habitual ways of thinking and acting, you can build a network that will open doors you didn’t know existed.