By Patti Johnson
As women, we have access to wonderful networking groups, mentoring programs and leadership events! The list is endless on the possibilities to learn from and connect with each other. Yet, do we need a formal program or event to be there for each other? We can decide to take action every day to advocate not only for ourselves but for each other without anyone organizing our efforts. Let’s take just one page from the boys club on how to create and contribute to a vibrant, active network.
The ‘good old boys’ is a term used to describe an exclusive group of men fond of making big decisions on the golf course or behind closed doors. Invitation only. Sorry, no girls allowed here. Let’s keep this environment in a Mad Men episode, but the boys club did one thing right. They not only valued action on behalf of each other, it was expected.
I recently listened in on a few male friends (who would never describe themselves as good old boys) talking before dinner. Without any real effort, there was very high productivity.
Looking for a new job? “Let me connect you to a friend of mine over at …”
Starting at a new role in a technology company? “You should talk to my friend in charge of…..”
Need information on a new mountain bike. “Let me give you the email of a friend who just bought one. She did a ton of research.”
I never once heard a tentative ‘do you have time to help?“ or hesitation in offering assistance without being asked. It’s understood that an active network helps each other. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
How is the girl’s network doing? I’m not referring to the formal networking or mentoring programs, but our business circle – our friends. Many of the most accomplished women I know still must be encouraged to ask for help. Asking for help makes us vulnerable and, as a result, women can view it as a sign of weakness rather than strength – even successful women.
A friend recently admitted, “I feel exposed asking around for help. I’d rather just figure it out myself.” When I asked her how she felt when others asked her for support or ideas, she used words like “flattered”, “glad to help”, and “not a big deal.” But, it seemed so different when it was her.
Not only are we often uncomfortable asking, we miss chances to help each other even they are right in front of us.
At a recent lunch, a friend we’ll call Kelly shared her career plans with us. Another friend we’ll call Mary listened and we all asked a few questions. Then, we moved on. Yet, Mary was in a perfect position and industry to offer Kelly some valuable introductions. After lunch, I asked Mary if she may be able to help Kelly and she answered, “Sure, she didn’t say anything. Do you think she wants my help?” I encouraged Kelly to ask Mary for her ideas or introductions and her response was, ‘I could, but I hate to put her on the spot.’ Would the same missed opportunity have happened in the boys club?
The main difference in the boys club is that you probably never have to ask. It is understood that you actively help and advocate for each other. When women start at a new company, look for a new role, or try something new and scary – do we always ask ‘how can I help?” and ‘what can I do?” And, then, more importantly, take action on it?
In my book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, (May 6, 2014), I studied the habits and behaviors of those who have started changes, or waves. A common theme in all changes is that Wave Makers™ quickly get to the question of ‘what can I do?” and then they take action.
For men and women, these are signs that you are part of an active and collaborative network:
- We actively participate in each other’s dreams, plans and possibilities on the field as part of the same team, not watching from the stands.
- We are confident asking for help because we know it’s a sign of strength.
- We quickly go to ‘how can I help’ and then ‘what can I do?’
- We look for mutually relevant currencies. What do I have that can be helpful and valuable to you and you for me?
- We advocate for ourselves and for each other.
- We don’t compete with each other.
- We don’t wait to be asked – we know what to do.
- We cheer each other’s successes without jealousy or envy.
- We know that the success of one in our circle helps us all.
- We listen and care rather than judge.
Thankfully, the good old boys network is fading – more in some industries and companies than others. This is very good news. Yet, let’s learn from the one thing they did well.
Be active in your circle every day. “My last manager works for the company you are interested in, let me give him a call and introduce you”, A friend of mine can give you the scoop on that product and if it can help your business”, or “Come over for dinner and we’ll run through some likely interview questions. You’ll be great.” And, they’ll be there for you too.
Are you an active contributor to your network? Do you ask, ‘what can I do?’
Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a former Senior Executive at Accenture and the author of the upcoming book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life. (May 6, 2014)
An earlier version of this article originally appeared on Switch and Shift.