The Impact of Persons on Networks
We live in the three networks of institutions, social media, and relationships. How can our participation contribute to building relationships of impact that matter in each network?
How I Have Been Impacted
We need to understand not only how networks affect us, but also how we can impact those same networks.
Here’s a picture of how it happens.
One of my Substack subscribers dropped me a note of appreciation last week.
“I'm truly pleased to have found your Substack writing. It gives me some of the tools & words I couldn't find on my own to voice the unspoken thoughts I've had about networks, relationships, and leadership.”
I am grateful for his thoughts because they illustrate how WE impact one another through our network connections. While my writing encourages him, his gratitude encourages me, with the result that a relationship begins that transcends Substack.
I am right now with another guy whose wife found me through reading Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin’s book, The NeoGeneralist: Where you go is who you are, and who has invited me into a strategic planning process this is taking place over four days in their home. I am now one of the family. Friends to the parents and a surrogate grandpa to their two kids.
See how Networks of Relationships can move from a social media connection to genuine relationships of impact. Both of these guys contacted me through LinkedIn. And in a matter of days/weeks, they have had an impact upon me.
My observation is that the institutional structure of our lives makes it difficult to establish deep relationships of caring and impact.
Simply, learning how to function within the strictures of the institutions that we move through on an average day can be bewildering. My assessment is that people tend to be poorly socially prepared to stand apart from their networks of institutions. Yet, it is in standing apart that relationships form.
Through this long series of posts on networks, you let me know that you are seeing things that help you better connect with the idea of and a vision for building relationships that transcend your present and past experience. As you do, you will discover more about yourself. If that requires a more intensive engagement, then we can do what I am in the midst of this week by using my Impact Day planning model. Reach out to me if this holds interest to you. It is where I find great satisfaction, even joy.
My Networking Story
Networking came naturally to me. Even in places where I don’t fit in, I feel like I belong. Let me rephrase that:
Almost every place I go, I do not feel like I fit in. Yet, I have learned how to insert myself into those more closed networks to be welcomed and included.
My purpose is not to take over, but rather to learn, befriend, and contribute. Then pass that knowledge on to others. The result for me has been a very wide spectrum of people that I know around the world. And it is growing because I am curious, interested, respectful, and supportive.
Ronald Burt in his book, Neighbor Networks: Competitive Advantage Local and Personal, describes the effect of this approach.
“… information is assumed to have a clustered distribution in which information is relatively homogeneous within groups and heterogeneous between groups. That clustered distribution is assumed to create a vision advantage for people who have connections across groups because they are exposed to a broader range of alternative opinion and behavior, so they are more likely to see alternative ways to go, synthesize new ways to go, and see a broader range of ways to support an initiative. Finally, it is assumed that people who see more opportunities are more likely to act on at least one of the opportunities, so the vision advantage creates an achievement advantage manifest in evaluations and compensation as performance metrics.”
I have found this to be true. The alternative of never venturing out from a closed network of like-minded people makes it more difficult to adapt to changes that are happening that would ordinarily be recognized from the perspective of a more open network. Put it in a more colorful way.
You can see the train coming from a mile away instead of too late to get out of the way.
Patterns of Behavior
The impact that we can have by being more active in expanding our networks comes from how we live. When I wrote Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative to Ignite Change, I was responding to a very restricted belief that there are few leaders and many followers. This perspective in effect denies the agency of us as individual persons. Agency is the capacity to decide and then act on the information and perspectives that we gain from people we know. Your agency is critical to the formation of networks of relationships.
Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has plumbed the depths of human agency in his writings over the years. What he presents is analogous to what I see taking place in networks.
We act to connect to build relationships to gain perspective and information.
Though I think many people don’t do this because they do not understand their own agency.
“What is crucial about agents is that things matter to them. We thus cannot simply identify agents by a performance criterion. ... To say things matter to agents is to say that we can attribute purposes, desires, aversions to them in a strong, original sense.” *
This means that our impact in and through these networks – these networks of institutions, connections, and relationships – are not occasional or accidental, but intentional and learned. We must learn to work in the system of an organization. We must learn how to function within the complicated virtualness of social media. We learn how to reach out to establish relationships with people we do not know, but now wish to know them.
I am suggesting that there are patterns of behavior that we adopt and master that make it possible for our involvement in these three types of networks to matter.
I am also suggesting that we should be intentional and strategic in how we manage our involvement in these three networks. We begin by asking why we are involved.
Why Be Involved? What’s the Impact of My Involvement?
Networks of Institutions
In terms of networks of institutions, our involvement at our place of work is obvious. We want our workplace to function in the best possible way so that our time at work goes well and is fulfilling. But, what about all the other institutions that we encounter? Can we define a purpose that is not only for our welfare but also that will benefit the institution too?
This is a much more difficult question because these institutions tend to be the least personal and most structured. Yet, we expect the people in these institutions to treat us respectfully and fairly. Why? Because it makes the system work better. To affect the culture of an institution is to be a person of respect and integrity who does their job.
Network of Connections (Social Media)
Involvement on social media is much less clear. Why be involved is a question that needs to be asked from the perspective of what we gain. I know we believe we are contributing when we share or click like. But what is the impact of those actions? What kind of change are we making that makes a difference? The clearer we are for our reasons to participate defined by our impact, the more likely we will find that the time invested is either worth it or not. I am suggesting that asking these questions on regular basis about our social media involvement is healthy for us relationally, psychically, and spiritually.
Don’t have any illusions about these networks. The institutional and connectional networks exist as places or contexts for our lives. They are not primarily designed for your individual benefit. What benefit you gain is incidental. They are structured to function without your or mine involvement. We enter into them and do not have to do anything to make them work. The structure of organizations and social media ensure that the networks will function in keeping with how they are organized. This is not true of networks of relationships.
Networks of relationships
Networks of relationships require personal initiative to work. We must engage with people at a personal level. The people I spoke about above took personal initiative to reach out to me. It has made a difference that matters. It doesn’t mean that we become best friends or it might. It does mean that these relationships are now a part of my network of relationships, and I am in theirs.
If we were to see our networks as living beings, they would always be seeking to expand beyond their current configuration. Each member has to contribute. The values that sustain the network are ones of respect and of co-creation. Without initiative, we only have connections. Relationships take work. They live and die based on our own initiative.
In my definition of leadership, I say that “all leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters.” This means that we are taking initiative to establish relationships based on values of respect, trust, and mutual accountability. The quality of those relationships contributes to a social culture that I describe as “a persistent, residual culture of values.” This culture of values persists because it resides in the relationships of people. Relationships that transcend the structure and the connections of institutions and social media platforms.
Most of these relationships in our networks are people close to us. We see them often and we learn to communicate and work with each other. However, from a network growth perspective, we want to look for people outside our network who share similar values, purpose for impact, or experiences. These categories provide a guide so we know who we need to look for and how we approach them to establish a connection that can lead to a relationship.
Guidelines for Thriving in Our Networks
With all this in mind, here are some things you can do in each of these networks. This is not an exhaustive list. I suggest you add it to your own.
Networks of Institutions
Do your job the best that you can.
Treat people with respect; regardless of how they have treated you.
Help people when you can.
Expand the knowledge base of your position, department, and company. Pass it on to the next generation.
Do not overstay your welcome or your value. Leave when it is time to leave, no sooner or later than necessary.
Networks of Connections (Social Media)
Listen. Comment. Ask questions.
Direct message people that interest you. Start a conversation. If they ghost you, move on. Don’t take offense. Just move on.
Tell your stories. Stories connect us together beyond the algorithm. Be careful what you reveal.
Say Thanks. Return favors. Learn to be magnanimous.
Disagree respectfully. Don’t pick fights. You’ll only alienate the quiet people who are waiting to meet you.
Comment less than you want and only when it will make a difference that matters. Don’t add noise.
Discipline yourself in the amount of time you spend on social media. It is not your home.
Networks of Relationships
Participate and contribute where you live. Focus on creating local impact.
Ask more questions than you give opinions.
Talk to strangers when the space is safe to do so.
Treat people with respect.
Be a trustworthy and confidential partner.
Ask, “Who do you know that you think I should know, and would you introduce us?”
Say, “I know this person you should know. I’ll introduce you two.”
Everyone is worth knowing, has a story, and a contribution to make. Find out why.
Be careful with your money. Never respond immediately to requests for financial help. If you are uncomfortable, that is all you need to know. Remember, money is necessary for life and corrupts everything it touches.
Share meals. Go visit. Create projects.
Don’t go a week without meeting someone new.
Creating a Network Impact Plan
Where do you start? You start by knowing the kind of impact that you can create and that you love to create. This is about having a purpose in life that is tied to creating changes that make a difference that matters.
Next, know the kind of people that you are interested in knowing. These are people you are already gravitating toward on social media. Why these people? Is it because you want to be like them? Do they provide an image of what is possible for your life? Or are they the people that you feel need the impact that you can provide?
Next, go through the contacts list on your phone and identify five people who don’t know each other, and with whom you have a healthy relationship. Go to them and ask,
“Based on the kind of impact that I want to have, who do you know that you think I should know, and would you introduce me?”
When they give you a name or two, do the same with these new contacts. Do this until you find the first person or group where you can have a real, tangible impact.
This is how we build our networks of relationships. If you have questions, ask in the comments. I’ll respond. If it is really good, I’ll write a post on it.