4 keys to develop Professional Connections

professional connections

I can not stress enough the value of your personal and professional networks and connections in gaining a board appointment. I am sure it will not surprise you that, at least 65% of people are appointed to a board via a personal or professional connection. So, if you want a board appointment or board seat, you need to know how to develop professional connections. Here are my 4 keys to help you do just that.

Key 1 – Be clear about your motivations to develop professional connections

Individuals who successfully develop professional connections are persistent. Persistence comes through strong motivations and an internal drive. Clearly motivated people see opportunities to develop professional connections everywhere; at dinner parties, on planes, in the office, at corporate events, and even at children’s community events.

To do this effectively, you must be clear about your motivation for doing so. There are two kinds of human motivation that should acknowledge, one with positive and one with negative implications to develop these connections.

  • Intrinsic (positive) motivation: are the result of internal stimuli. You engage in a behavior because you find it personally rewarding, enjoyable or even challenging. Successful independent directors are usually driven by a desire to help the organization; not to gain a board seat. This behavior has positive spin-offs, being that the connections made are legitimate and authentic. In the end, these kinds of relationships reap positive results, including introductions that open doors to new board opportunities or access to those you have been targeting.
  • Extrinsic (negative) motivation: are the result of external stimuli. You engage in a behavior in order to receive an external reward or avoid a negative consequence. For example, you only want to meet new people because you want them to help you achieve something; or you might want a board role because you feel it will help your social standing in the community and how your peers see you. These negative motivations are self-serving often seen as unattractive by those with whom you are trying to develop professional connections.

Don’t dismiss this seemingly small difference between the 2 types of motivation. It is important because the one driven by your own individual interest and personal recognition will always be more successful. Be aware of this when interacting with those you meet. It should be reflected in the sort of language you use. Be careful to be seen as being extrinsically motivated.

Key 2 – Be authentic

Many aspiring board directors I speak to are completely inauthentic in their approach. They misrepresent their level of experience and/or pretend they have more to offer a board than they really do. As you can imagine, these conversations based on this bravado usually go nowhere and end up in both parties being let down. If you are trying to develop professional connections, then play to that strength. But to do so, you must first know what your strengths are and what it is you can offer a board. Once you do, then ask others with more experience than you for their advice. You should then have the basis of an authentic pitch. An easy and authentic approach can appeal to literally thousands of people.

Key 3 – Be passionate

One of the top criteria that a Board Chair looks for in successful board candidates is passion. Board chairs are passionate about three things: their contribution to their board, what the organization does or what the organization is. They in turn look for and connect people who share their and/or similar passions.

So, what exactly should you be passionate about? The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. I have seen the toughest board chairs softened by an inexperienced but extremely passionate board member. Whether your passion is for board service, the organization, the industry, what you do outside of work or what you have to contribute, any of them can be appealing to the right listener. Success lies in knowing what it is you are passionate about and how to articulate it.

Key 4 – Get your mantra right

This one is easy as your mantra is simple -“How can I help? How can I help? How can I help?” This phrase needs to be buzzing around your head when you looking to develop professional connections. You should constantly be thinking about the people you know, the knowledge you hold, the industry-based skills and experience that might be useful to those you are trying to connect with.

This “how can I help”-mantra is incredibly powerful which reaching out to those you wish to develop professional connections. Asking this question can be an ice-breaker. It will allow you to identify the challenges they may be experiencing, then leverage your ability to assist. Asking how you can help, also demonstrates that you are inquisitive plus have a genuine interest to contribute or collaborate. Once connected, this approach provides a pathway to stay in contact and possibly generate new connections. These elements may help you develop future board opportunities.

A word of warning – wanting to help and helping are two very different things. Most successful leaders ensure they follow through and so should you. The  “how can I help” mantra may backfire if you don’t follow through on your promises, no matter how big or small the promise is.

What next?

Developing professional connections is not something that comes naturally to most, however by getting out there, connecting and conversing with new people will begin to feel more comfortable. You should start by conducting an audit of your current networks, identify those you should nurture and where you should focus your time to develop new professional connections.

About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments. He has over a decade of experience in putting people on boards as an international headhunter and recruiter. He has interviewed hundreds of directors and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP director roles in the world.

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