When I was in my 20s, I always thought that if you worked hard and aced your assignments, you'd naturally move up in the workplace.
For a while, that's exactly what transpired. But one day, something happened to me that inevitably happens to almost everyone in the workplace. My old boss left and a new one came in. And even though I tried harder to impress him, putting together a special project that won lots of praise from people outside, he was ... indifferent. Looking back, I realize none of it was personal. I wasn't his hire and we just didn't have much chemistry. When you click, you click, but when you don't, well, someone moves on. I did, and I've never looked back.
The whole episode was a huge lesson for me. You can work as hard as you can and you can still feel like you're going nowhere. That's when it began to dawn on me how critical it is to not only be talented at your job, but also talented in "winning the room." Nurturing the connections above and around you is essential to your success, whether you're in a big company or striking out on your own. Could I have done more to "win the room" when the changeover happened? Absolutely. Did I? No. I just buried my head in more work and hoped my new boss would notice how great I was.
I see this a lot with young women, too. They put their heads down, do the work, socialize among themselves, and think, somehow, nurturing connections outside matters little in landing the next job or promotion. Sallie Krawcheck, the chair of Ellevate, a network that empowers women to expand their careers, says some young women have told her networking for your next job felt like "cheating."
As Sallie explains in our interview for my podcast, Radiate: "For some reason, particularly young women, when I talk about [networking], they say, 'Well, that's cheating. I want to do this on my own. I don't want to do it through my contacts and connections ... You would be shocked by the number who say that ... I'm like, 'Well, how do you think the guys are doing it?'" (You can listen to the podcast episode, out today, on iTunes here or download the RSS feed.)
Sallie, who's just raised $10 million to start a new digital platform, Ellevest, to help women close the gender investment gap, says for all her own expertise, she also fell victim to the same affliction I described above.
It happened at her last big corporate job on Wall Street, in which she ran Merrill Lynch's wealth-management business, part of Bank of America. Despite making billions in profit, she was sacked two years after taking the job. "It was a random act of violence," she says. "You're like: 'I work hard. I'm excelling. What the heck?'"
So take it from two people who've been there. "Work it" with the connections and never look back.
If you like this article, you'll love my new podcast, Radiate, featuring interviews with CEOs, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. You can click on new episodes on iTunes, SoundCloud, or on my website, www.betty-liu.com. Here is the RSS feed, too. And please don't forget to REVIEW the podcast or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.