“Friends cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.”
Henry David Thoreau
Author Leslie Grossman wrote her latest book Link Out: How to Turn Your Network Into a Chain of Lasting Connections because of what she saw in 2008, when the recession hit the country hard. “So many people found themselves alone, without friends who could help them,” she says. “Even those with big networks didn’t seem to have what they needed: a group of supporters who could connect them to people. And although the recession had hit my business, too, I realized that I did have connections that could help me.” Thinking about how that had happened turned into her book, which came out this year.
Her deep thought on networking made her realize that most people get it wrong. “They think that the bigger their network is, the more powerful it is. That’s simply not the case.” In fact, she says, you don’t need hundreds of contacts, whether they’re in social media or your real life business network. What you need is not contacts, but relationships. Yes, the old fashioned kind, where you know each other, care about each other, and speak in person on a regular basis.
Grossman says that too many people are focused on the quantity of their network contacts and forget about quality. Relationships, she says, are collaborative; they go both ways. Each person is cheering the other on and providing advice, support, and connections. When you have a network of quality relationships like that, you have an entourage.
The dictionary definition of entourage, and the one that comes to mind for most people, is “a group of attendants or retainers, especially such as surround an important person.” We tend to imagine a movie star or politician surrounded by fawning yes-men. They smooth the way, help her succeed, and make her look good. But why should entourages be only for the rich and famous? We can all have – and be part of – an entourage. The difference is that ours will be true collaborations – not stars orbited by supplicants and lackeys.
Grossman writes in Link Out: “The ideal entourage is composed of influencers and people who are connected to other influencers and achievers. You want to surround yourself with self-sufficient, self-confident, and self-fulfilled individuals. You do not want people who are interested in themselves and their own success exclusively.” Given that definition, your entourage may be small at first. That’s okay; better to have a small group of passionate supporters than a large group of indifferent acquaintances. Don’t forget that the purpose of your group is mutual support; you must also be interested in and helpful to each person in your group. Together, you make up what Napoleon Hill called a “Mastermind Group,” a group dedicated to each other’s enrichment and success.
Entourages provide a diversity of thought and experience in addition to adding their own spheres of influence to yours. They can help you determine when your idea is good and worth pursuing, or bad and holding you back. They provide constructive criticism in a way that makes you feel cared about and allows you to hear even the things that might be painful. They act as a sounding board and help you advance your goals.
Entourages refer each other to leads or connections that can help advance their careers or their business. Many people say that networking is painful and awkward; they hate calling someone to ask for favors or information. It’s not surprising, considering the superficial and transactional nature of these calls and meetings. It’s hard to call someone you haven’t seen in months to ask for a favor. Calling one of your entourage, however, feels safe and appropriate. You know you’ll return the favor someday soon.
How do you start to acquire an entourage? As with most things you want to acquire, you start by giving first. Entourages develop organically through your generosity to your current network and people you meet. Leslie Grossman says that your first obligation to a new contact is to listen carefully and figure out how you might be of help to her (the opposite, by the way, of bad networkers, who are sizing you up to see how you can be of use to them.)
Being generous with your time, contacts and wisdom will make you attractive to the right kinds of people. You’ll find that the contacts and wisdom seem to grow exponentially as your circle of quality contacts grows. Reward and encourage generous behavior by others with acknowledgement and gratitude – and by being generous in return, of course. That’s rare in today’s business environment, and you’ll look like a superstar for doing it.
Then it will come as a surprise to no one to see you surrounded by an entourage.
Leslie Grossman will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Women of Influence event hosted by the Jacksonville Business Journal and the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center. The luncheon will be held on Thursday, August 29 from 11:30 – 1:30 at the Hyatt Riverfront, Jacksonville. Register here.