The number one rule in business networking is to figure out what you can do for someone else — not the other way around. Yet it’s been my experience that far too many people think only about what’s in it for them.
This will be a divergence from my usual spiritual stuff, because it’s been coming up a lot lately. I have been in the presence of many great leaders, great speakers. And I’m starting to realize the difference between those who live generously and those for whom it is all about them. Here’s a hint: the generous ones tend to be the most radically successful. There’s also a big difference between those who are truly humble, wishing to be servant leaders, and those who just pretend they are. The truly humble ones can’t seem to stray from their humility, while the ones who are pretending seem to leave it at the door when they walk into their safe zones. They drop that stuff like an itchy hat.
A few years ago, when I was an active Sales Director with Mary Kay (amazing company, by the way) I was a member of a professional networking group. I was absolutely shocked at some of the behavior I saw in these “professionals.” I should have known early on when, for my very first meeting with one of the members, he spent thirty minutes telling me that Mary Kay was a scam. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the first rule of networking is: how ’bout we don’t bash each other’s businesses.
I was also shocked by how quickly people would write off another member, thinking that they would not have the kind of contacts they were looking for. Sometimes this was based on what they did professionally; sometimes it was simply based on their personality. Either way, it was dead wrong, and entirely unproductive. Because it’s not just who they know now, it’s who they may know in the future, and it’s who you don’t yet know you need.
I mean, really. Will it kill you to be nice and foster a relationship? Will it really feel like you’re chopping off an arm to open a door for someone who might never be able to help you? Let me ask you this: when that person who you helped becomes a wild, raging success, do you think she’ll remember you when she has an opportunity to push business your way? She’ll remember you, all right. She’ll either remember you with warm fuzzy thoughts as the person who helped her immensely or she’ll remember you as the jerk who bashed her business for a half hour and was so incredibly condescending it took all of her energy to keep from laying a roundhouse kick to the side of your snotty little head.
Oh. Did I say that out loud?
I hear stories all the time — a successful owner of a martial arts studio who was told by a fancy-schmancy chef that he wouldn’t have the kind of clients he’s looking for — except what Mr. Schmancy doesn’t realize is that said Martial Arts guy hangs in circles of some very rich people in the MMA world — one of the fastest growing sports on earth. And guess what? Those rich people EAT!
Then there’s the dentist who decided the guy who had all the high end restaurant contacts wasn’t her cup of tea, referral-wise. Because, yeah, the owners of high-end restaurants probably don’t have…teeth…?
There’s a bigger issue at play here. Consider the last time you wrote someone off as not useful to you. First — and I’m asking you to really think here — have you missed a possible opportunity, either now or in your future? And perhaps, and here’s where I’m going to get tough on you, did you miss an opportunity not to get but to give?
And even bigger: is your closed palm simply an extension of your closed mind? What have you said no to recently simply because you couldn’t see dividends? Don’t get me wrong — learning to say no is an important management skill that we all need to learn and practice. But we also need to check our motivations.
A coach I once worked with used a great visual — if you have a dollar in your hand and dollars are falling from the sky, in order to receive more dollars you have to open your hand. Will your dollar fall out? Quite possibly. But how much more will your open hand be able to receive than your closed fist?
Generosity is not just a Christian value — it’s a universal law. It pays you back — it’s just the way God set things up. Personally, I think he gets a kick out of it. And it’s not always about opening your hand to get money. Sometimes it can be the open handshake of introduction, quite possibly for someone who will never be able to fill your palm in return.