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Building Powerful RelationshipsWhy Women Are Different

Posted on Wed, Jul 9, 2008

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Ask the Pro Interview
Suzanne Bates with Rebecca Shambaugh

Recently I was invited to speak to a group of executive women from some of the largest food service companies in the country. During a book signing for Speak like a CEO, I met the delightful, brilliant, and insightful Rebecca Shambaugh, who is also a well-known author, speaker and expert on women and leadership.

Since this was a networking event for executive women, it got me thinking about how women are really doing in building the kinds of powerful relationships that advance their careers. I think that women are natural “networkers” but I’m not sure they are truly leveraging those relationships.

Rebecca was kind enough to provide an interview for the Voice of Leadership. I know if you’re a woman in business today, you’ll appreciate her advice:

VOL: Rebecca, there’s an old saying, “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know.” It seems to me that women know this but they still don’t have the same powerful contacts in their databases, and they don’t call on those contacts the way men do.

A: When I’m speaking at conferences and meeting with clients I’m actually pleasantly surprised to see that men and women everywhere agree on the value of strategic relationships. If in real estate, it’s “Location, Location, Location”… in business today, it’s “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!” Both men and women agree that it seems to be the most important tool great leaders have to tap into to produce meaningful results. Where I see men and women being different is in their assumptions and intentions about how to build and leverage these relationships.

VOL: Still, women have a more difficult time “finding time” to build relationships at work because when they reach a management position, they are juggling the home front; in fact their family lives become busiest when their careers are peaking.

A: Yes, that’s true. For example, I remember speaking at a conference on how to capitalize on your strategic network. A woman in the audience said, “I don’t have time to go out for drinks with folks after work. I have children at home waiting for me to feed them.” I knew immediately that she had hit on a key assumption that many folks have – that building strategic relationships is something we do in addition to our real job! I immediately put away my speaking notes and we continued on this line of thought for awhile.

VOL: What did you advise her to do?

I acknowledged that she was so right in being clear about her priorities and suggested that she consider her job in a new light – that 70% of her time in the office should be focused on doing the work at hand and that the other 30% should be strategically focused on meeting and getting to know others who might either help her in her current role or help her down the road. We brainstormed how others could help her do her job more effectively or efficiently now, and then brainstormed how someone might help her in terms of reaching her overall career goals.

VOL: What are some other differences you’ve noticed in the way men and women build important work relationships?

A: In one session with men and women, we got people together in groups to discuss that. When they reported out, they told us that women invested a significant amount of time in getting to know other people and focused on establishing a “meaningful” and trusting relationship before they called on them for help. Meanwhile, the women were astounded to hear that men had no trouble picking up the phone and calling someone they had met only once, and had virtually no relationship with, and asking them to “help me out with this.” And they were fine when others did the same to them. Women had assumed that people would feel “put upon” or “used” if asked to do them a favor if they had not established this “high touch, high trust relationship” first, when in fact men never even considered it a factor.

VOL: Are men really that assertive when it comes to asking for help? A lot of men won’t even ask for directions when they’re driving!

A: Interestingly, I asked the men this question. One of them responded that “finding your way” was different than “getting results.” In my experience with women building strategic relationships, this is a big issue. Women don’t see the difference and they hold themselves back for several reasons:

  1. They think they should be able to know or do it and will be seen as less competent if they ask for help at work, while they don’t hesitate to ask directions at a gas station!
  2. They fear being turned down; men just assume if the person they ask can, they will; if they can’t, they will say no.
  3. Women feel that people don’t have time to meet with them and listen to them and men assume that if they stick to the point, time won’t be an issue.
  4. Women are afraid that if they ask for advice and don’t take it, the other person will be offended while men assume that advice is just that – take it or leave it.

VOL: Do you have other advice on how women can build a stronger network of relationships – people who can help them move ahead and get things done?

A: Yes! Here they are:

  • Have a goal and build relationships with intention.
  • Form your own personal Board of Directors and don’t go to the org chart to do it. Choose a diverse group of advisors for your work, your career and your own personal growth.
  • Remember Kevin Bacon and Six Degrees of Separation. Don’t assume someone can’t help you because it’s likely that one of their contacts can.
  • Target 2-3 people to reach out to this month and jot down the names of people you’ve met recently. What do you remember about them and how might you contact them in the future?
  • Remember the Law of Reciprocity. How can you bring value to someone else in return for them helping you either now or sometime in the future?

Rebecca Shambaugh is President and CEO of Shambaugh Leadership, and author of It’s Not A Glass Ceiling, It’s A Sticky Floor.


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