Have you ever had an amazing opportunity drop into your lap? The kind you weren’t expecting. In fact, the kind you might have seen others get and wonder how they got that… and why you didn’t.
Well, that just happened to me (more on that in a minute).
Of course, none of these opportunities just fall out of the sky. In fact, you can’t get very far sitting by yourself waiting for things to happen. Believe me, I know this from experience.
How Not To Do It
For much of my career, I was afraid to put my hand up, fearful of stating my opinion. It got to a point when I hardly said a word in meetings because I couldn’t get beyond the debate I had with myself about whether something was worth saying. Then someone else would say it, which gave me something new to beat myself up about.
Those were acts of omission. Things I didn’t say or do, but regretted later.
When you hold yourself back from doing or saying things, you end up playing small and falling short of who, what and where you could be. Do it long enough and you start to get out of touch with your own instincts, which makes it even harder to jump in and take action.
That was when the fewest opportunities came my way, and when I had the most regrets.
Become the Linchpin
Roll the clock forward, and I’m finally learning to live a life of no regrets. And that means making acts of commission – leaning into that fear and saying or doing it anyway.
And now back to that amazing opportunity. In my case, I can trace it back to a single act of courage I took 3 months ago. Here’s how it went down.
Last fall, my team and I were strategizing about how to change things up for our annual kickoff event. Instead of doing it solo as usual, we decided to bring in other experts to deliver even more value to our audience. In essence, creating a “superhero team” of sorts.
Seth Godin would call this being the Linchpin: people who invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.
You want to be the Linchpin.
So we handpicked a list of experts and I sent an email to each one. But because I didn’t know 90% of them, there was a high likelihood of rejection.
Back in my corporate years, we referred to this as “cold calling”. That is, sending out requests to people who don’t have any idea you exist. Next to public speaking, I believe that cold calling (or cold emailing in my case) must rank right up there as one of the top fears in life!
How Being the Linchpin Helps Your Career
In fact, putting myself out there was not easy, even as an experienced cold caller. Most of these people were at least 1-2 levels above me in industry stature and extremely busy with what I assumed were far more important projects than mine.
It took an hour and a half of procrastination before I finally pressed “send” on the first email. But I did it.
And here’s what happened: in the end, a third of them never replied and a third of them said “no thanks”. But a third said “yes” and we were off to the races.
There were four big benefits to starting something, reaching out and putting myself out there:
First, bringing those other experts together created a more valuable experience for our audience than any one of us could on our own. This bigger mission was what got me to take action.
Second, appearing alongside these world-renowned experts elevated my brand beyond anything else I could have done at the time. Simply showing up next to the leaders in your field makes a statement about who you are and what you can deliver.
Third, the act of reaching out grew my network of relationships dramatically. Not only have I built relationships with the 13 experts who said “yes”, my name is now known to the others, even if they didn’t respond. So, the next time I reach out, it won’t be quite as “cold” a cold call.
Fourth, I became the one bringing people together. The convener of the group and the effort.
Being the Linchpin is deceptively simple in terms of the steps to take. The hard part is getting over yourself and your fears to take those steps. I’ve found that the key is to lean into your fear and focus on the bigger objective that makes the effort meaningful to you.
And recognize that you don’t have to be a linchpin on all things, but just choose at least one area or project to start.
How to Get Started
Here are three simple steps to take on the way to growing your network and your personal brand at the same time.
Pick something you want to take on
This could be anything that you care about enough to want to be a convener. Ideally it’s something you believe in that’s so interesting and mission driven to you that you’ll go to great lengths to make it happen.
Some questions to help you generate ideas:
- What are you doing every year or every quarter that could be changed by bringing others in from outside your group or function?
Back in my corporate career, one initiative that helped me grow my network and build my personal brand was hosting a client outing. Our CEO held an internal golf event to teach female bankers how to play golf to even the playing field and help us do more business. It was such a success that I pushed to create a similar event for our external female clients. Not only did the firm fund it, they asked me to lead it and our CEO agreed to be the keynote speaker for the event.
- What have you seen or been invited to in a different industry or context that you could adapt for your own organization? Perhaps a speaker series or charity event.
- What would you love to get involved in, but doesn’t yet exist where you work? For example, a book club or Toastmasters group.
If you need some inspiration, here’s a list of 10 projects you can start:
10 Network and Brand Building Projects You Can Do This Year
Reach out to others
You’ll need to get people on board with your project or initiative. Go for a mix of aspirational people who are a few levels above you as well as those who are peers. Remember, you’re looking for people who can really move the needle on your project, so if you need some “big guns”, then invite them.
Think about who has truly impressed you and who you would love to get to know. Who is an expert in the field and would be a big “draw” to attract people to join your event or effort. Who cares passionately about the topic and would be a great partner.
Make sure that the people you reach out to share your ethos and integrity, but are different and complementary to you in other dimensions. That leads to a stronger effort and greater likelihood of success than if everyone has the same strengths and perspectives.
Keep going and make it happen
You’re going to get “no’s”, but that’s okay. Remember, you’ve included aspirational people in your invitation list. You just need enough “yesses” to make the effort viable.
When the rejections come in and you’re feeling down, just think of baseball. If a batter is batting .200 to .300, which means hitting 2 to 3 out of 10 balls pitched at them, then they’re doing well. Make sure you have enough “at bats” to end up with the number of people you need.
And even those who say no are still potentially part of your network. Sometimes the timing isn’t right or the topic you’ve chosen isn’t of interest, but they are at least aware of who you are now and there can always be a next time.
“Thank you, Team!”
One of the best ways to make sure you actually start and take action is to engage the support network around you. Without that, I'd still be debating and waiting!
That’s why I want to take a moment to publicly thank my wonderful team – Leanne, Kathryn, Renee and Mickey. There was no way I could have pulled such a big event together by myself, nor would I want to. They got me going and kept me going as we worked towards the launch of my recent Career Mastery™ Kickstart event.
Their continued and unwavering support, hard work, dedication, encouragement and enthusiasm fuelled my determination to keep going and deliver a great experience for my audience. And we achieved it – together. Thanks, team – you’re the best!
My “Lucky Break”
In the end, it’s all about taking actions. That’s what puts you in a position to attract those “lucky breaks”. In my case, it was bringing others into Career Mastery™ Kickstart that led to the big opportunity. When I reached out to other experts three months ago, I knew I was growing my network, and I hoped that it would further build my brand. But I had no idea that one of my experts would recommend me as a speaker for another event.
I was introduced to David Burkus – best-selling author, internationally renowned speaker (his last TEDx Talk has over 1.3 million views), and an Associate Professor of Management at Oral Roberts University – by Kevin Kermes, founder of Career Attraction.
That introduction lead to David inviting me to speak at his Work Smarter Summit where you can learn how to do more great work, make more money, and enjoy more of your life. I'll be sharing the virtual stage alongside 40 thought leaders who are the best in the world of leadership, management, teamwork, and personal productivity. What an honor!
What Will You Do?
It’s when you’re building a relationship for the longer term, not being too needy for anything in return, and being yourself that you have the best chance of finding the people you really “click” with. And that’s the kind of network of relationships that’s most valuable.
And when people know, trust and respect you, they can’t wait to recommend you to others. Which in turn, builds your brand and puts you in ever more supportive circles to create a virtuous cycle.
Now it’s your turn to start that virtuous cycle for yourself. I want you to enjoy these same benefits in your career.
But, it’s up to you to find something where you can be the Linchpin so you can grow your network and build your personal brand at the same time. So go start something, reach out to others, and make it happen!
Get David’s free ebook of “productivity hacks”, and check out my interview on the Work Smarter Summit on February 22nd.