I was doing a speaking engagement recently on the topic of leading with authenticity and a woman walked up afterwards. She had a dilemma. She wanted to be able to leverage her network to grow her customer base but felt inauthentic asking her network for help.
A lot of women leaders I meet have good networks but they have a hard time calling on their networks to help them. Why is that? They say it feels “icky”. They feel like if they use their relationships to help them in their business or careers they are being inauthentic. I believe there is a gender expectation that we all need to become more aware of. The gender expectation is that women are supposed to be caring, cooperative and relationship-building – for the sake of relationship-building. Thus, often when a woman wants to leverage her network for advancing goals, it causes her to feel “icky”. On the other hand, many men are happy to use their networks for mutual benefit. They benefit by networking “strategically”. This of course, has nothing to do with authenticity. It has everything to do with the unconscious gender expectations we take on. Authenticity is about connecting with values and a sense of purpose that inspires each of us rather than conforming to gender expectations of who we should be.
So I decided to talk to my good friend Kathy Hatala, SVP at Speakeasy, who is masterful at the art of building and leveraging relationships and doing this with great authenticity. I certainly learned a lot from her in this interview. I hope you do as well.
Henna: You have been able to become one of the top producers in business development in your company in a very short period of time. What do you attribute this to?
Kathy: One of the reasons for my success is that I enjoy what I sell – in this case, communication development for employees, executives & teams. I have made sure to align my overall goals with core values that are important to me. Here are some of my core values:
Passion – I have to have a passion for the “product”, because Sales is hard work and takes a lot of tenacity. I’ve always been interested in the talent development side of the business, and I found a company that taps into helping people become better communicators. It was in line with whom I am…and for that reason, it makes me a better sales person for the company, giving me a sense of personal achievement, authenticity and fulfillment.
Accountability – I have a very strong sense of accountability to myself and the company, which goes a long way. Goals are defined for each year and it’s my own sense of accomplishment and work ethic that drives me to achieve or exceed expectations. I feel accountable not only to meet the revenue goals, but to serve my clients to the best of my ability and provide them with an outstanding experience. I am serving others in a way that gets back to my core values.
Cultivate Relationships – A number of the accounts I’ve developed are in the media and entertainment vertical, an industry I worked in for over 20 years prior to Speakeasy. I have worked hard building those relationships over time, developed new ones and created business partnerships based on needs within the organizations I serve. The challenging part is keeping the business relationships alive and active, as there are only so many hours in a day. I often set “activity reminders” in my calendar to connect with individuals every 3-6 months, even if it’s for a coffee, to keep the relationship moving forward.
Network to connect & serve others – Not every opportunity has come from a prior business connection. I attend networking events or meetings as much as possible to uncover opportunities, discover new businesses and engage in conversations. I do this with an open mind and the expectation of building my sales pipeline, meeting interesting people…and as potentially helping others in the process.
Henna: For many people (a lot of women for example) networking with a purpose in mind (i.e. I am looking for a job, or I want to build my business) feels inauthentic. Yet you do this without losing your soul. What advice do you have for these people?
Kathy: Yes, I have several pieces of advice
Go with a Purpose – As you say in your book, “The authentic self is a state of awareness that excludes all labels that create fear and separation from others. It feels connected to everything.” Networking does not feel inauthentic if you go with a real purpose in mind – to connect with people…whether personal or business related. Let’s face it, everyone is there to make a connection, so why not join in?
Connect to your Authenticity – Look for networking opportunities that have meaning to you. I suggest looking for associations where you have a personal interest…or maybe it’s a speaker for that particular event that motivates you to attend. I joined a media association years ago called “Women in Cable Telecommunications” – WICT. Their mission is to develop women leaders within the industry and I became a member of the association many years ago. I have served in a variety of board positions over the past seven years. These leadership positions have allowed me to stretch myself, grow as a leader, give back to others and create an opportunity to develop meaningful business relationships.
“2 Way Street” – It truly is an exchange when you network and meet someone for the first time. Certainly, you have an agenda or purpose in mind, but so does the individual(s) you are meeting. Find out more about them, what are their needs and tap into that discussion too. When you network, you certainly want something to come out of the experience, but it can also be “giving back” to someone else that makes the time worthwhile. There are numerous associations for all types of businesses and agendas – just find the one that connects to your interests, the industry you work in, or your personal values… and that certainly will help the “inauthentic” factor.
Henna: What specific mindsets do you have to be able to develop to network authentically?
Kathy: Several in my opinion:
“Be fearless” – You really have to go into networking with a fearless attitude and a mindset of confidence. When I’ve walked into a room and don’t know anyone, I take a deep breath and walk over to the person also standing by themselves. Or if there are a couple of people chatting, I’ll walk over and let them know it’s my first time attending this particular event and thought I’d introduce myself. I guarantee every person in there has been in your shoes at some point in their careers, or maybe at that very moment! Most people will offer a hand shake and readily introduce themselves and a conversation begins. I try to make it a goal to meet at least 2-3 new people that I don’t know at a networking event. Make the time worth the effort. Ideally, it’s important to leave your fear factor at the door and any negative thoughts you telling yourself that will take you away from being present at that moment.
“It’s Not All About You” – As Oprah says, ‘everyone has a story to tell”, so why not ask more about the person you’ve met. Why are they there? What do they do? How did they get into that line of work? You may find common ground, similar experiences, or hear something that sparks additional conversation and interest to connect again. Or, you engage for a few moments with someone, shake hands and move on. You really have to go with an open, curious mindset and one of exploration.
Henna: What advice do you have for those of us like me who are introverts for whom networking is only slightly less painful than a root canal?
Kathy: I have several suggestions:
Start Small. For your first few meetings, don’t attend the “BIG event” with 500+ people, as you may feel overwhelmed. Find a local chamber meeting, or maybe it’s a neighborhood function or an event organized through your industry. Grab a good friend and have them go with you – sometimes is just helps to have a colleague come along. The thing you have to remember is you can’t just talk to each other the entire time! Separate and reconvene at the end of the networking event to share your experiences.
Practice Makes Perfect – I understand it can be really difficult to network – especially those who have more introverted tendencies. But, like anything in life, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel at meeting total strangers. The first few meetings may feel very awkward or challenging, but take it one event at a time. Note that all networking won’t be the “best meeting ever”. I’ve been to functions where my mind is wandering, the speaker is not connecting with the audience and I thought the couple of hours was a waste of time. That is going to happen, but there will be other meetings/events where it’s exactly the opposite – great engaged crowd, dynamic speaker/interesting topic, meet nice people, etc… If you don’t get out there and try, you’ll never know what you are missing.
Henna: Are there any specific skills that can be developed? How do you start small and then gain traction?
Kathy: Yes, here are a few.
Communication – Developing your communication skills is a good start. Make sure your voice is heard, speak clearly and distinctly, and give your listener the chance to engage. Be able to articulate your purpose and be clear about your intentions. For example, clearly state, “I am in job transition and looking for my next opportunity. I am seeking a position in…” Humility and “leaving your ego at the door” is key to communication and connection.
Know Your Elevator Pitch – I suggest practicing your “elevator pitch”: your name, current status (where you work and your role…or, that you are in job search mode or transition and the type of work you are seeking, etc). Keep it short, to the point, but interesting. Practice your pitch and then practice your pitch again and again…make it meaningful, but by all means make it authentic to you.
Net-Building vs Networking – The other thing to remember is that networking is NOT about collecting as many business cards as possible, and then wondering what I do with all these names. Networking is about meeting new people, finding common ground and possible opportunities. You won’t it hit out of the ballpark every time, but you have to get out there and start building your network.
When I meet someone of interest, I use LinkedIn to follow-up and reconnect, mentioning it was a pleasure to meet at the event and that I’d like to meet for coffee for “X” reason. Always have a reason to meet & follow-up, as this will entice your new connection to respond and engage.
Ideally, you want to look at Networking…as Netbuilding and by all means have fun with it!
My big thanks to Kathy Hatala for sharing so much of her wisdom with such generosity. Of course, that is who she is authentically!