Being Connected Trumps Being Exceptional In the Working World

Earlier this year, Penelope Trunk invited me to write a blog post for Brazen Careerist. My article recently appeared on her site, and I thought I would share the post with my readers who might be interested in sharing feedback! 

There is a  lot of pressure to be exceptional.  Entrepreneur and author Seth Godin caused a stir when he claimed that, if you are “remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular,” you don’t even need a resume. (You do, but that’s a subject for another blog.) Understandably, a bias that being exceptional is the key to career success is engrained in most professionals.

Take a step back – What really predicts success in the working world? Is being extraordinary the answer?

No one gets an ‘A’ at work. You may earn a strong performance review, a promotion, or even a raise. No doubt that these require quality output, but evaluative characteristics tend to be subjective. (There are no multiple-choice tests.) In reality, your ability to promote, communicate and connect your value to colleagues and superiors is more important than the actual quality of your work. If you don’t believe me, read this study from a Harvard and Duke professor explaining that personal feelings often carry more weight than competence in the business world. (Hat tip: Penelope Trunk)

At a very basic level, if you are contributing, but no one knows, your lack of connectedness hampers your success. However, while being a connector leads to the ability to self-promote, connectedness isn’t about self-promotion.

In his book, The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell defined connectors as “people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances.” He goes on to describe how these unique individuals make a habit of introducing people in different circles to each other. Gladwell notes, “We rely on them to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don’t belong.”

In our digital, Web 2.0 world, success will depend more and more on our ability to broaden our professional circles and to reach out to a diverse socio-economic group of people representing a mix of opinions and beliefs. Professional “connectors” who habitually introduce people who otherwise may not meet earn goodwill and reputations as valuable resources and colleagues.

In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says, “…Community and alliances will rule in the twenty-first century…[success is] dependent on whom you know and how you work with them (291).” He asserts that living a truly connected life is a prerequisite to success. For example, Ferrazzi mentions that Crain’s 40 Under 40, a list of rising stars in an array of fields, aren’t necessarily the best businesspeople. Instead, he suggests that they are probably the best connected businesspeople.

The value of connectedness is never more heightened than during uncertain economic times. Anyone who has been reading the recent “how to recession proof your job” articles and blogs will realize that they inevitably share one common piece of advice: Network for career success. Don’t wait until you are desperate. Networking is about building relationships.

Author and blogger Thom Singer said it well: “All opportunities come from other people.” Your success will depend, not on what you know, how many hours you work, or how much money you make, but on your ability to build and maintain a band of people to share ideas, opinions and contacts. The people you know and their willingness to support you will determine your fate in the working world.

Building trust and relationships with colleagues and associates inside and outside of your organization is something every professional should consciously manage. Don’t assume that you will wake up one day surrounded by mentors, supportive colleagues and friends. The only way to attain success is to drive your own career bus.

Successful people are willing to give without expecting anything in return. Successful relationships (in life and in business) don’t keep score; each partner contributes. Being a connector takes this idea to the next level. If you intentionally broaden your circle of influence and consciously and generously add value to others by introducing them to contacts in your circle, you open the door to untold numbers of opportunities.

Hold the door open for others and you may be surprised at the number of people who will rush to hold it for you.

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1 Response to “Being Connected Trumps Being Exceptional In the Working World”

  1. 1 John Groth August 19, 2008 at 11:29 am

    At age 38 Bill was appointed CEO. He wasn’t the best worker in the company or the brightest. But he was good at two things.

    (1) Letting the whole world know what he had done. If the results were good so much the better. His ability at self-promotion was legend. and:
    (2) He spent time cultivating friends in all parts of the company. He brought people together. If you had a problem he always seems to know someone (both in and outside the company) that could get you pointed in the right direction.

    So you can be the best and brightest but if you never get out of your dark closet, others with these skills will shoot past you.

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