How to build a powerful network

By Joanne Sullivan, director of community relations for USF Health

Do you know someone who seems to know everybody in the community? Political office holders, high profile community and business leaders, it seems no one is beyond their reach? These connectors have a knack for building relationships that stand the test of time.

They keep in touch with high school, and college, friends, remember birthdays and anniversaries and are the first to drop off a meal when someone has something wonderful, or something tragic, happens. They are the hosts and hostesses who love giving parties and arranging get togethers.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell calls them “connectors.”

They are authentically curious about other people. When a connector meets someone new, they have questions at the ready because they sincerely do want to know about the person—where did they grow up, what surprises them about their work, how did they get involved in their passion project? Their interest is real and they listen to the responses to their questions. Your mother was right, everyone does like to talk about themselves. It’s a world of anonymity; when someone focuses on learning about you, it feels great.

Connectors are rarely tuned to “what’s in it for me” instead they look for opportunities to provide those in their network with experiences that provide mutual benefit and, for the most part, the mutual benefit involved does not include them. They connect the dots for others, facilitate introductions and are relentless about keeping their word. If a connector promises to do something, you can book it.Once a connection is made, it is nurtured, and cultivated, through contact which includes meetings, emails, LinkedIn messages or handwritten notes. Connectors think nothing of sending a note to congratulate someone in their network for a new job, an award or special recognition. In fact, they likely have a drawer full of attractive note cards, both personal and professional, for just that purpose with a selection of stamps on hand. They express their gratitude in tangible ways. 

Connectors don’t keep score. They will contact someone at the drop of a hat, just because they are thinking of that person. If it feels like the right time to reach out to someone, they do. Not trying to remember whose turn it is to call. If an email goes unanswered, they try again, without making anyone feel remiss about not responding. They understand the value of developing relationship equity.

Connectors rarely turn down an invitation to meet with someone. Their calendars have many entries for brief meetings, with new people, to explore possibilities. Coffee dates and early morning breakfast meetings are favorite opportunities to begin a conversation that could lead to unexpected benefits.

Finally, connectors cherish chance encounters. Waiting in a long line or attending an event like Tampa Bay Business & Wealth’s “CEO Connect” are rife with potential new connections. Connectors know it is all right to be shy, but it is not all right to act shy. Most attendees are delighted to be approached in a friendly, and sincere, manner, providing they don’t feel trapped in a conversation.

Connectors are considerate, collaborative and encouraging. Over time, they develop a powerful network.  You too can build powerful relationship by being thoughtful and intentional.

Joanne Sullivan is the director of community relations for USF Health. Her career in Tampa spans more than 30 years of building relationships that benefit the organizations she has served. Her TEDx Talk, “Confessions of a Serial Connector,” can be seen on YouTube.

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