Commentary by Russina Sgoureva, head of business technology transformation at Farmers Insurance®

It's often said that people won't remember the things you did or said, but they will remember how you made them feel. I had to learn this lesson more quickly than most. I came to America from Bulgaria 26 years ago as a hopeful college student with just $300 in my pocket. But to get to my own version of the American Dream, I needed more than a little luck and a willingness to embrace adversity. I also had to connect and engage meaningfully with those around me. I was in a new country and I had to fit into a community foreign to the one I grew up, so I needed get people in my corner. I needed a tribe.

Learning to adapt to new situations and people is paramount to anyone's survival, especially in the world of business. As small business owners can attest to, it's the connections you make that can be the catalyst for taking your company or idea to the next level. Looking back on my career, I've reflected on what it takes to create a solid network of allies - a tribe that can be relied on for support through every stage of your professional life. Spoiler alert: you may need to get uncomfortable. Here are three simple tips I'd offer to anyone looking to tribe up.

Don't just network, connect

Networking is more than just give and take: it should always begin with the question, "how can I help?" instead of just "what can I get?" Mutual benefit between both parties must exist for a connection to work long term. To build that connection, try to meet and interact face-to-face, particularly on your first encounter. Living in the digital age has made it far too easy to click a button and think you've made a connection. Much of business continues to be conducted on a handshake basis - and one way to make connections is with other local business owners and entrepreneurs through industry groups and meetups. These can be found on LinkedIn or Eventbrite with a simple search for industry-related events in your city - you'll find plenty of network-building opportunities.

Influence the influencers

It's critical to identify and connect with influencers, the local movers and shakers within your industry, to stay informed and ahead of competitors. Find out where their interests lie, ask yourself what you can offer them, and begin to cultivate relationships. Determine what your unique value proposition is for them and leverage it for mutual benefit. You can then deepen your connections by tapping into your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EQ), in practical terms, is understanding that emotions drive our behavior and impact the people around us, as well as learning how to manage those emotions - our own and others - especially when we are under pressure.

The ability to recognize and utilize EQ in building relationships is essential in order to network effectively. The good news is this intangible skill can be developed and strengthened over time - all it takes is practice. Continue putting yourself in situations where you are meeting new people and refining your social skills. This will help you better understand how people respond to emotional cues. Put yourself out there, don't be intimidated.

Carpe Diem

I believe there's a lot of truth to the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Adversity makes us better people and stronger leaders. I suggest you make the most of every opportunity thrown your way. All great leaders have resilience - and you'll need it to not only build your network but to advance in your career. Maybe you're still developing your networking skills. It's important to remember that we aren't just preternaturally gifted with the ability to create lasting relationships with strangers. But if you take on challenges and remain resilient in your efforts, you will soon begin to see your network and, perhaps more importantly, your social confidence grow.

Creating a tribe of professional allies can seem, at the start, daunting, time-intensive and even unpleasant. To build mine took many years, but I never lost sight of the objective - to have a reliable group of industry allies in my corner. When I emigrated from Bulgaria for college, I committed myself fully to that goal upon graduating and embraced its many challenges. And although your course will almost certainly be different, the first step may be the same: finding comfort in being uncomfortable.

Published on: Sep 7, 2017
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