Before I begin, I must admit that I am the most introverted extrovert you will ever meet! That usually comes as a surprise to a lot of people. Most think I am definitely an extrovert and I’m just kidding with them. No, they are wrong. I work daily and very diligently to be less introverted!!! Tough job, trust me! I hate being a social butterfly. A book with a glass of wine at night versus dinner out with many is ALWAYS my preference! I cringe at the thought of happy hour with a large group of people I don’t know. I would pay to speak in front of 500 people versus mingling in a small group. I would rather volunteer for a one man project than a group collaboration. It’s not that I don’t like people, I do like people! I’m just better in my comfort zone, with less stimulation, with me and my thoughts – you get the picture.
So now that you have heard my confession, I can say with all honesty, no matter how introverted you are, no matter how much you loathe networking, no matter if you feel an anxiety attack coming on even thinking about it, you MUST overcome all of that and learn to network. It’s gotten me where I am today. Without overcoming one of my strongest weaknesses, I would NOT be the Jenn Cox I am today. Period!
Please understand, I’m not just talking about your professional life. Yes, that is important and networking has greatly impacted my career path. I’m talking about every aspect of your life and the lives of others. You, as a leader, have many opportunities to interact and network with people. You are a leader at work, school, church, volunteer organizations, home (yes, even at home) etc. You can be a leader at multiple places for a variety of activities. I will use myself as an example to show my point.
For the past five years, I have been in a knee deep (perhaps near drowning), red tape nightmare called the foster care system and adoption process. I have met and interacted with hundreds of people – good and bad. Through networking, even as a quiet participant in parenting classes, I have had many opportunities given and provided to me. I had a teacher explain to me the in depth intricacies of having a child with serve learning disabilities and navigating the department of education and what an IEP (individualized education plan) can offer. I now know the best tutors and how to help my child. I found someone who could teach me how to teach Nikki. We learn differently, so my way is not the right way for her. I learned that there are two excellent animal therapy programs that have had better results than office therapy visits. Nikki relates to animals, so why not incorporate that into teaching her confidence, independence and trust? I didn’t know that until I talked to people who had been there, done that. In turn, many people in my same situation don’t have the business and legal knowledge that you need to have to navigate the system. I do. I have helped dozens of couples and individuals understand what is being asked of them. And to be honest, it’s not at all user friendly. It’s not written in layman’s terms. It is often times not even explained by your caseworkers- and different workers say different things. Would you know how to look up and understand over 100 pages of legal codes if you didn’t work with it every day? I deal with financials, legal communication, contracts, etc. every day. It’s second nature to me. The education system was not! Even just a simple recommendation to color code folders (which my entire filing system is) helped one couple tremendously. I came to a meeting with colored folders and labels, and she jokingly said that I was a very creative person. NOPE! Just organized with a few OCDs! HA!! She had never even thought about that. Two months later she emailed me thanking me for making it a little less stressful when looking for medical records versus educational ones.
Now let’s look at your networking. Many of our clients participate in training work on a COI (circle of influence). The end goal of a COI is to build referrals which in turn increases your community’s census. That’s the black and white professional outcome. (And yes, that is critical and keep doing it!) The networking actually turns into much more. Maybe you have an elder law attorney in your COI. That same elder law attorney can help one of your current residents who is needing some legal advice. They can speak at a lunch and learn to better educate adult children about needs of their parents. You never know, maybe she is your daughter’s volleyball coach next year. (That really did happen! HA!!) Another person in your COI is a discharge planner. He can refer patients to you upon discharge from the hospital. But what else can he do? Work with you to build a CEU program that benefits both hospital staff and your clinical team. He can recommend a great doctor as you just discovered your son needs an orthopedic surgeon due to a football injury.
Now you can see how networking can extend far beyond the black and white, for obvious reasons. So go out and do it! I know it can be scary. I know it can get lost on the “to do” list. I know you have 1000 excuses not to do! How do I know? Because I was you!!! So I can tell you with all honesty, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself no matter the situation.
Until next week, pick up that phone or go visit someone in your COI – either personal or professional.
Written by Jenn Cox, COO at Bild & Company.