By: Ben Muell, Sports Marketing Consultant & Living Sport Advisory Board Member
“I can not think of a more imperative part of life.”
Read the first line of an email from Jermaine, a good buddy and former co-worker. What is “imperative” you ask? That would be networking. (1)
It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or when you do it… no other skill can help advance your future more than networking can. (2)
Now you don’t have to take Jermaine’s word or mine. I’ll give you an example. Anyone a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones? Kidding. I know you all are.
“Chaos is a Ladder.” (3)
What really made Game of Thrones great is the complex web of characters. These connections are forged from family ties, historical duty, as well as mutual and selfish goals. A lot of the show’s main characters have the resources, power, or skills to advance: Daenerys Targaryen has her dragon(s), Cersei Lannister has the power and purse of the Iron Throne, and Jon Snow is a noble and formidable swordsman. (4) Though many of the secondary characters are the ones who actually help further these main characters’ goals. Not by brute (Mountain) force, but through the power of relationships.
Let’s take a look at one of the secondary characters, Petyr Baelish, who’s prominently featured throughout the books and the first six seasons of the TV show. (5) He’s a man from humble beginnings and was rather fortunate to be taken in as a ward of the Tully’s, one of the great houses of Westeros, when he was a child. (6) But unlike many of his male counterparts, he is not a great warrior. (7) Although, he's an ambitious man.
(1) Defined as “the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.” Thanks to… https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/networking.asp
(2) First, yes, it is a skill, more on that later. Second, honestly this is all you need to know but please keep on reading.
(3) A quote by Game of Thrones character Petyr Baelish from season three, episode six.
(4) Equipped with his “Valyrian Rubber Sword”… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEz1z5Daxmo
(5) During that time, he received the 11th most screen time despite not having a single point of view chapter in author George R.R. Martin’s five books.
(6) For non-show watchers, here’s more background… https://gameofthrones.fandom.com/wiki/Petyr_Baelish
(7) This is a solid ranking of GOT fighters. But for my money I’d move #5 to #2. What do you think? https://www.gq.com/story/game-of-thrones-best-fighters-ranked
When we meet Littlefinger, as Baelish is also known, he’s risen to the role of “Master of Coin”, aka the Chief Financial Officer of Westeros, making him well-resourced, positioned, and extremely well-informed. We see that he’s everyone's ally and everyone's enemy, but on the sly. This “frenemy” position is made crystal clear when he counsels and plots with Ned Stark only to turn on him.
When war breaks out, it forces the major players to form new alliances. What’s the best way to make new friends and make sure that they don’t kill you? A wedding! (8) Using tactful communication and his network, Baelish masterfully helps broker a few marriages, which helps and hurts the competing factions. At this point in the story everyone even knows he's shady. But he's also indispensable because he gets the job done. His balancing act of aid nets him a couple of big titles, castles, and even more power.
Unscrupulous methods aside, Littlefinger was always able to read the tides and uncover what people need in a sincere fashion. Plus his efforts were never half-assed. His methods, arguably for a time, worked far better than those who relied solely on themselves or smaller groups. This is because Baelish had a clear goal, to win the Game of Thrones, and he used all the tools available to him. Now his conniving ways do certainly catch up with him in the end. But this was a man who started with no coin, no great name, and no army to support him. Yet he becomes one of the most powerful men in Westeros through planning, skilled relationship-building, and tactical use of information focused on his goal. (9)
(8) Just don’t invite any Freys.
(9) Fun fact: GOT author, George R.R. Martin, once noted that Littlefinger was loosely inspired by Jay Gatsby, another rags to riches character, from The Great Gatsby known in part for his shadowy methods of advancement and relentless pursuit of one goal. (https://grrm.livejournal.com/324330.html?thread=17747434#t17747434)
“You could turn King's Landing upside down and not find a single man with a mockingbird sewn over his heart, but that does not mean I am friendless.”
- Petyr speaking to Sansa Stark in A Storm of Swords. Chapter 68. Sansa VI.
So we should all be a bit more like Littlefinger, just without all the unsavory bits. We should seek out relationships and acquaintances, value knowledge, put ourselves in a position to be a resource for others and have a plan.
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.” (10)
Goals and a plan are paramount (11) to direct your future. This will not only help you build your network but also efficiently use your most valuable resource, time. A plan prioritizes your time and will help you get the most out of your relationships and acquaintances as well as letting others get the most out of you. It also ensures that your networking is genuine and focused (12). You will then put forth the effort to learn and understand the needs of others. You can then be proactive and help others achieve their goals through various little and big favors, for close relationships and acquaintances alike.
(10) A quote from Greg Reid, author of Wealth Made Easy.
(11) Seriously follow Greg Reid’s advice and write down your goals and plans as well as a timeline then refer back to them.
(12) If you’re phony or driven only by selfish needs, you will be sought out eventually à, la Littlefinger.
Now networking isn't done on a quid pro quo basis. But if someone doesn't know what your goals are, then how can they repay you? So, make sure your goals and needs are clearly communicated. If you are genuine in your own actions, then you will reap the benefits, be it next week, next month, or next year.
You also can't put all your eggs in one basket, you need a variety of connections. Take note that in addition to the word “relationships” I use the word “acquaintances”. This is because “weak ties (acquaintances) can offer strong rewards,” according to writer Allie Volpe and some other very smart people.
“Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to (sociologist) Dr. (Mark) Granovetter’s research”.
I won’t steal any of Ms. Vople’s thunder, so go read her New York Times article for more great advice on developing relationships. (13) But the idea is that we can cultivate positive outcomes from the many “low-stakes” acquaintances we already have with just a bit more effort. You never know who knows who or what. So just ask!
Additionally, it's a way to practice… I’m talking about practice… your networking skills. Just by chit chatting a bit more often with a co-worker, a neighbor, or your bartender (must be 21 to drink kids) - basically anyone can help you become a bit more outgoing, learn to read and use body language, develop listening skills, asking thoughtful questions, and expand your knowledge base and network.
“This is what I heard, this is what I think, and here’s what we’re going to do.” (14)
In closing, I’m going to steal from, Kevin Plank, and the “three statements” he uses to run Under Armour.
(13) Seriously read this article. It's full of gold… “Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships”… https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/smarter-living/why-you-need-a-network-of-low-stakes-casual-friendships.html
(14) “I firmly believe that people don’t work for companies, they work for people.” Sounds like Plank is a fan of networking. Check out, Suzy Welch’s short interview with the CEO… https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/thrive-under-armour-you-have-answer-kevin-planks-three-suzy-welch/
What (We) Heard:
Networking drives success
What (We) Think:
Networking needs a plan, it must be genuine, and is easier to do then we think
What (We’re) Going To Do:
Write down goals and develop a plan
What knowledge you need to attain
Who you know that can help you
What you are going to do
Every Friday, when folks are in a good mood and not so busy, send out an email and/or LinkedIn request to them asking for help and advice
Build more low-stakes relationships by simply starting more conversations every day