In his international bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes Connectors as the people in a community who know large numbers of other people and are in the habit of making introductions. Gladwell attributes the success of Connectors to the fact that "their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."
But this suggests that Connectors have some kind of mojo, or sorcery, or special sauce that can’t be replicated. And I disagree. You become a Connector the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Here are 6 tips to get you started:
Be authentic. To be a good Connector, you actually have to care. Only sociopaths can fake sincerity well. So unless you are a sociopath, you will not be a good Connector unless you find a way to care about the success of the people that you meet and the people in your network. One way to start caring is to start talking to people. Ask them, “What are you working on?” Listen to their challenges. Think creatively about how to help. Once you start to care about what people do, what they know, and how you can help them, the more useful you will be at connecting them to others.
- Pay it forward. People will help you if you help them first. Maybe not all of them, not right away, not on your timeline, not exactly when you need it, but it will happen. EVERY successful person can point to the small efforts of a few people who helped them along the way. So go ahead. Connect a cool college kid in your neighborhood with the admissions dean that you play golf with. Help the girl next to you on a plane find an internship. Recommend a former colleague for a CEO position that opened up. I guarantee it will pay off somehow, someday. It will set off a chain reaction prompting people in your network to help someone else. And so on, and so on, and so on. Until it comes back to help you.
- Connect. Don’t sell. Connecting is all about building a virtual network whose members look out for one another and each other’s networks. Not-so-good Connectors make the critical error of only looking out for themselves. They think the best network they can have is full of people who can get them things. Au contraire, mon frère. Connecting is about giving. Once you have established a giving relationship, the people in your network will let you know when it’s OK to sell to them. In fact, they’ll ask for it.
- Keep it casual and relaxed, but be specific. Telling people that you CARE for them and that you’re a really good CONNECTOR is just a little creepy, right? And ambushing people with unsolicited introductions could put people off. So here’s how you should do it: Put someone in the lead. Have a vision for the relationship between them and the person you’re connecting them to. Connect them in person or by sending a funny, or friendly, conversational email that introduces them and touches on the needs of both parties. Then let them take it from there.
- Build critical mass. You need to connect constantly to build a network that contains at least a few hundred people. Without this scale, connecting doesn’t work as well. I don’t mean having 2,100 connections on LinkedIn or 37,000 Facebook friends. Think about the 1-200 people you know – colleagues, classmates, neighbors, the guys on your softball team. Reach out to one and ask him or her what they’re working on. Then think of 1 or 2 people you know that could be helpful. Make the connection. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- Assess the risk. Being a good career and business connector is not something that can be automated, and not every connection is risk free. Now, we’re not talking about setting people up for a date here. THAT’s risky: if it doesn’t work, both people will remember that it’s all your fault. But seriously, some introductions just don’t work, while others backfire. But the more you know and care about your connections, the less risky it becomes. As you get more skilled at connecting, you will also get better at mitigating risk.
Becoming a better Connector may not come easy to everyone. But if you can care and if you can practice, connecting will create enormous leverage for you – personally, socially, and professionally. It will help you find opportunities. It will help you grow your business. And, perhaps most importantly, it will make you a better person.