One of the most selfish things you can do is help people. So be selfish.
You've worked hard to cultivate a network of trusted confidantes, industry leaders, mentors, and colleagues. Now's the time to pay it forward. Make it your mission to connect your network.
Networking for all
Over the past six years, my company has experienced substantial growth. I'm proud of our accomplishments and of the people around me who have made Hennessey Digital what it is today. However, I'm still just a guy trying to learn and grow.
I see an executive coach weekly; a mentor for me. That's because mentorship never goes away. No matter where you are in your career, what you do, or how you do it, mentorship is important.
In the beginning of your professional career, you're not a mentor. You need one. Probably several. As you progress in your career, the tune changes. Suddenly your network is bigger. You have an ecosystem around you, built from years' worth of experience and years' worth of interactions.
Then you pay it forward. You become the mentor. And if not mentorship, at the very least you become a trusted confidant, a high-quality colleague whose opinions matter and whose connections are extensive.
In doing so, you avoid being the "leader" that lives and dies on Do-It-Yourself Mountain. That's a lonely place where people cling to the past. "The only way is by paving your own way." Sure...to an extent. But help is all around us.
Be the helper.
All you have to do is start the thing
Early in my career, I was asked to speak at a legal marketing conference. I knew little to nothing about legal marketing -- I was just there to talk about SEO.
My presentation was simple: how I reverse engineered the Google algorithm and ranked on the first page of Google for the term "wedding favors." Nothing to do with law, but I was transparent in my information; I flat out told the crowd (AKA lawyers) that this had nothing to do with law specifically, but if they followed these same strategies, they could tailor them to law-specific terms and rank in Google.
I left that conference with more than six new clients. Had I not been given the opportunity to speak, this would've never happened. And had I not taken the opportunity and ran with it, I might've left that conference with no new connections.
Connecting your network isn't something you'll be able to (or should) do every day. Remember though: Your job is just to make the connection or introduce the opportunity.
If you feel like two people should be connected with each other and you're confident in your referral, then make it happen. If you see an opportunity for someone in your circle that you think would benefit them, open the doors.
After that? Out of your hands. You've done your part (and selfishly gathered the karma for it). Now it's up to them to move things forward.
Speaking of referrals
Aren't referrals the best? We want to work with people we trust. In my own experience, it's easier to trust someone who is referred to you by another trustworthy colleague (see: someone in your network). In fact, I've hired a number of people who started as referrals from others; other leaders paying forward their network.
Referrals simplify a job hunt for all parties involved. When a referral comes your way, the "I don't know you" feeling lessens. You might not know this specific person yet, but you do know who recommended them, and that recommendation carries weight.
How to foster connections
So, where to start? Let's organize connections into three buckets: Need, opportunity, and future.
The most obvious bucket holds someone who needs a connection. Perhaps it's an employee of yours, or a friend. They're looking for something, wanting advice from someone, etc. Whatever the scenario, you connect them with someone who can help.
This one's more about events than people (though people are certainly involved). It's what someone in my network did for me with the legal marketing conference -- they saw an opportunity and said "Hey, Jason would be good for this." They gave me the chance, and that's all I needed.
When you see that same chance for people in your network, give it to them. It might be on a whim. An event triggers an opportunity to connect one person with another. Or an upcoming conference slot feels like it would be the perfect time for a colleague to share their knowledge with others.
This is reserved for those random moments where you think to yourself, "Y'know, it might be good for my COO and executive coach to meet each other sometime." In this case, you're making a connection for a possible future interaction.
Meaningful relationships matter more than ever. As we continue to rapidly digitize in-person operations, serving as a connecting rod between others makes a difference.
Now, who in your network needs to be introduced?