Networking anxiety. What would Elon Musk do?

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Elon Musk made an impromptu appearance on Clubhouse (a new social networking platform) last month to talk about monkey brains, Mars and Robinhood.  The world should have turned off. Instead, his Clubhouse chat room was full in 20 seconds.

When CEO extraordinaire and tech visionary – Elon Musk – speaks, people take notice. Musk did not achieve his current status on the strengths of his ‘lone wolf’ efforts. He had a network. Intellectually, most of us recognise the benefits of networking to our careers but many of us still stay away from it. There are many reasons why professionals don’t network enough.  We’re too busy.  It doesn’t come naturally to us.  We think networking is insincere or manipulative. Some of us are so afraid of rejection, we do our best to avoid any setting where there’s a possibility of judgement. Paradoxically, that judgement is our judgement of ourselves, not others.

Let’s face it. Networking is one of the most dreaded developmental challenges facing aspiring leaders today.  If you have the chance to reframe the process and turn it into something you enjoy, would you do it?  How do we deal with failure? Overcome our fears? Deal with people who have upset us? Or find the time to network?

 

We look to Elon Musk for inspiration:

  1. On dealing with failure
  2. “I had so many people try to talk me out of starting a rocket company, it was crazy…” If something is important enough you should try even if the probable outcome is failure.” If you care about something, you should put every effort into following your dreams.

    Elon Musk never gave up.  He’s been denied, rejected, ridiculed, and labelled ‘crazy’ by the rest of the world.  PayPal sacked him when he was on holiday in Australia.  He filed for bankruptcy in 2010.  Tesla fanatics accused him of building lousy cars.  His Space-X rocket exploded upon landing. He started a Twitter war with his insensitive use of pronouns. He was caught smoking weed on a live interview. The list of faux pas is endless. But Elon Musk is not a failure.  You only fail if you give up.

    Here’s what Elon Musk taught us about dealing with setbacks:

    • Setbacks, rejections, and criticisms are opportunities to improve your networking skills. Take note of the things you may have done wrongly and change your approach.
    • Roadblocks are not rejections. They are temporary distractions from your main objectives. If someone rejects your initial attempt, try again when the opportunity arises. Or find some other source who can help you.
    • Grudges are not healthy. While it is okay to feel hurt and rejected, life is too short to hold grudges.  Relationships are not equal opportunity. You may encounter people who are rude to you.  You may find yourself talking to someone who is not interested or someone disagreeable.  That’s life.  Don’t take it personally.  There are more people out there who will respond positively to you.
    • Perseverance is the key to successful networking. Don’t give up.

     

  3. On overcoming fear
  4. “People shouldn’t think ‘I feel fear about this and therefore shouldn’t do it.’ It’s normal to feel fear like you’d have to have something mentally wrong if you didn’t feel fear.”

    Musk knew nothing about the rocket business when he started building rockets.  He admitted that the odds were against him, but he did not let his fear define his actions. Instead, he made an extraordinary effort to learn about the business and to put strategies in place so he could network with the right people.    

    Afraid of rejection or ridicule if you start networking? It’s natural to feel fear according to Elon Musk.  But fear shouldn’t define your actions.  If something is important enough to you, you can overcome that fear.

    If you are shy and have misgivings about networking, try these practical steps:

    • Be selective. Focus on networking activities that can help you connect with the right people.
    • Do your homework. Once you have identified the people you want to connect with, try browsing their social media feeds to get an insight into their interests and careers.  The more you know about the person, the less frightening it is to approach them.  You may also be able to come up with inspired icebreakers, talking points and interesting questions.
    • Set SMART goals so you can stay focused on your networking.
    • Practice small talk and answering questions. Prepare an introduction of yourself ready (name, occupation, organisation, the reason for participation). It will make it easier for you to keep the conversation flowing beyond the opening sentence.
    • Start with what you know. If you find approaching strangers daunting, start with friends and relatives. Once you become comfortable with making small talk, you can move on to networking with people you do not know.
    • Don’t stick to one person in the room. Shy people tend to cling to one person throughout the event.  Don’t be afraid to admit you are shy about networking and ask your new friend’ if he or she can introduce you to other people in the room.

     

  5. On how to network to get a job
  6. “I couldn’t get to him directly, so I called the newspaper and asked to talk to the writer. I met the writer and [eventually] the writer connected me with Peter Nicholson.”

    Elon Musk was studying in Canada at the time and looking for a summer job.  He’d read about Peter Nicholson – the head of strategy for the Bank of Nova Scotia – and was keen to work for him. His calls to the bank did not get any results.  So, he rang the reporter who wrote the piece on Nicholson and asked if he could introduce him to Nicholson instead.  Naturally, Elon got the job. 

    If you are trying to network to get a new job, here are some tips to expand your network and make meaningful connections:

    • Take 10 minutes to brainstorm your top skills for the job you are interested in.
    • Match these skills to the job you are interested in (‘high’ for the skill that will help you excel in the role).
    • Reach out to the right people. Tip: LinkedIn Alumni Page is a good place to start. You can type in your high demand skills and find people who match these skills.
    • Scroll down each profile to see their career path, current roles, and other skills. Jot down the ones you want to connect with.
    • Send them an email.
    • Keep reaching people until you get about 10 people from different organisations. Even if only one person from this list of ten, responds with an informational interview, you’ve made inroads into one new organisation. Keep expanding your list to grow your networks.

     

  7. On not having the time.
  8. “If other people are putting in 40-hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100-hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing… you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

    Business networking is organic. You may have amassed a network of hundreds in the past, but people come, and people go all the time in business.  If you don’t update your networks, you may end up with a list of irrelevant names.  Don’t make time an excuse to not network.

    Here’s how to find the time to network if you are a busy professional:

    • Leverage existing networks and connections. You don’t have to find new networks all the time.
    • Use existing activities to network. If you go to the gym regularly, try connecting with other members.
    • Schedule events in advance. Be selective with the events you want to attend and commit to them.
    • Use social media effectively. Think about your networking goals and match them with the right channel. For example, use Twitter to engage with industry influencers and LinkedIn to connect with other professionals. It is a good idea to consolidate multiple accounts so it’s easier to manage.
    • Take advantage of wait time to network. It could be your morning commute, on a flight, waiting in line for your morning coffee, or killing time before a meeting. Use the time productively to network.
    • Send shoutouts. Don’t always think it has to be a means to an end. You will make more meaningful connections if your responses are genuine and authentic.

 

The word ‘work’ is part of networking.  For networking to work, you need to work at it. It may not be easy because some of us are reaching out beyond our comfort zone.  The best way to network is to be yourself.  You don’t have to be an extrovert to succeed in networking. It’s okay if you are a little awkward. Just don’t apologise for being who you are.  Stay focused and remember, if you succeed, you will build a strong fabric of personal contacts who will be on hand to give advice, insight, support, resources, and information when you need it.   So, let’s get out there, put on our smiley faces, and start networking for our future!