Where do we learn to network? I think it is a natural curiosity to understand others, however for many of us, it might be pretty scary too. We are seeing that building connections is a new leadership literacy. Kelly Hoey has a unique take on why and how this works. After reading her book, Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in Hyper-connected World, I reached out to her on Linkedin to thank her and ask if we might connect in order to explore further. She graciously agreed and I am so glad she did!
Sherry Benjamins: Tell me about your career path and how you developed the many professional hats your wear, which have included a lawyer, a social media influencer, a start-up advisor, an investor, and an author?
Kelly Hoey: Networking has enabled me to make some interesting career changes. I went to law school in ’91 and was working in a very suit-oriented world. I had the good fortune of working at prestigious law firms and there was decorum and an expectation around how you treated clients and how you held yourself in the world. It was the way you interacted with people in your firm and profession. In the legal community, we refer to it as “practicing” law: you never reach the destination of expertise, but instead are a life-long learner. That enabled me to go from lawyer to law firm management. Back then it was an uncommon change for lawyers to make.
Looking back, everything I’ve done has come from a foundation of successfully jumping into something new and working it out. I jumped into the deep end when I moved into the start-up world, and it goes back to that idea of what do you want to be known for? What’s the reputation that you hold out to the world? How do you interact with people? A couple of women I respected had the idea for a start-up accelerator. They needed a third co-founder and when asking their network for anyone with a particular skillset, my name kept coming up. This is how opportunities happen. Sometimes it means doing things that don’t make sense on paper. Did it make sense for a lawyer with expertise in finance who had no experience in start-ups take on this new world? I believe that it is not about what you know or who you know, but instead who knows what you know. That’s what can move one along their career.
SB: Was it rare for a woman to be in investing at this time?
KH: In late 2011, there were few investors committed to women led ventures. Looking back, it was an overlooked and undervalued opportunity. Our idea was that “if you boys won’t invest in women, we will”. It was a great thing to start and also a great thing to stop participating in when the time was right. The realization though, came from the power of an entrepreneurial mindset. I learned that even if you’re an employee, you should assume that mindset. Give yourself 1, 2 or 3 years to try something and ask yourself if it’s a long term venture and if not walk away.
SB: What did you learn from your start-up experience with Women Innovate, the NY accelerator?
KH: It was the best MBA learning experience I could have. It also affirmed my strengths as a business woman. We can ask ourselves in our own careers: what am I really good at? What rocks my world? Where’s the universe sending me a signal? For me, I realized that happens when I get handed big, bold ambitious projects with limited resources and somehow I make it happen. That was also the case in Law Firm management. So rather than thinking “outside of the box”, I like to get in the box and figure out a creative way through the problem.
SB: In the forward to your book, Tom Peters says you have written about “revolution” not networking. What do you think he meant by that?
KH: For Tom, its always been about the people. When you read the word “network” in a book title, you go to a certain place. Tom realized the book is about careers and ambitions and the decent human being in a digital age. It has everything and nothing to do with what we traditionally think about networking. It has to do with the importance of putting people first. Even though we are in an economic and industrial revolution with upheaval and uncertainty, the one thing that is more certain than ever is that our human relationships and people skills are more essential and valuable than ever before.
SB: How will building connections change in the future?
KH: We’re at an interesting inflection point because all generations are struggling with how to make meaningful connections. The more comfortable we get in being uncomfortable with how we make relationships is the first step to building strong, viable relationships and vibrant networks. The more we realize that these things can grow via a conference call, in person, or otherwise. It’s not one versus the other, it’s everything. The more we are genuinely, authentically ourselves, regardless of platform, the more we remember that it’s a real human being with a messy complicated life on the other end. We are not just a user or a follower. To understand this is to become better human beings.
SB: Talent forecasters say that “on demand” curated networks of people will replace the need to recruit. What’s your perspective on that?
KH: As long as you’ve got diversity, in the fullest sense of the word, the idea that people bring their whole network to their environment may solve some of the challenges in recruiting. However, this rarely happens. The notion that we’ll use these curated networks and also be aware of our blind spots in order to ensure diversity, could bring better problem solving, creativity, analytical thinking and more to our organizations.
SB: What is your advice for the next generation of talent?
KH: I’m pausing for a second because don’t we say that every generation is going to be different and more difficult than the last? I’m thinking about Mr. Zuckerberg and congress. Tech companies were supposed to act differently, but when you think about it, he’s created a company that operates like the rest of them. You think about companies acting in extraordinary ways and they aren’t run by Millennials. It’s Patagonia or Ray Anderson of Interface Inc. When I think of revolutionary business leaders, it’s a bunch of older white guys and it’s kind of tragic. Why put pressure on a younger generation rather than look at it and say, we all have a responsibility to make this a success and strengthen how we interact and how we understand each other.
For the younger generation, I would say: It’s fine to have your way of doing things. We all have our preferences. Understand the environment you’re going into. Understand that you’re going to need to flex. You’re going to alter your choices. Know what your values are and what is most important to you so when you step into a workplace, you know which stuff you have to compromise on and which stuff you don’t.
In closing, Kelly may be wired to connect the networking dots, but you can be too! I recommend reading her book and consider checking out her Creative Lives Program on June 6th.
Don’t relegate networking to the bottom of your list. If you want to pursue your dream career, networking must become a priority. It is about understanding others, how you add value to them and in return for yourself too.