There is an abundance of research on the lists of the top ten attributes companies are looking for in new hires be they college grads, or coming from somewhere else. There is a lot of overlap on most of those attributes and many bodies of research try to encapsulate the more esoteric attributes with terms like Emotional Intelligence, strong interpersonal skills, sociable, team work and one of my favorites - creating social capital by creating strategic personal and professional relationships. (Bridgstock) I like that last one because it implies almost superhuman skills at being able to identify future leaders long before they have arrived and forging meaningful relationships with them early in their career to create an advantage for your career later on. Impressive but really?
Not that I don't know what they are trying to say. The core of it is find and build meaningful relationships as part of your career development - you know build your own "old boys" network. The problem is that it is hard to see the up and comers early, they just don't stand out that much and the ones that do stand out either leave a list of used, former friends in their wake or go out in a blaze of glory and disappear. And yet we know it happens, we see it all around us. So the question you have no doubt asked yourself at this point is this; how do I pick a winner in the mix of people I associate with right now to help me advance my career? Short answer? You don't.
The idea is valid enough its just backwards. You don't build a network of meaningful relationships by picking and choosing who might have worth to you or not. In fact that is exactly the wrong approach. You build a network of meaningful relationships by being open and available to anyone in your circle of influence who is open to you. Even more so, make yourself available to those who might not look like they are open or need help but actually do. Be a noticer.
Best selling author Andy Andrews wrote a book entitled "The Noticer" in which he chronicles a series of lives impacted by one individual who had taken note of their situation and offered help and advice. But lets be clear being a noticer is not about getting ahead, it is about helping others get ahead. That is the difference in perspectives and it is this approach that will truly see you come into the quality and type of network of friends and associates that will not only advance your career but will quite frankly be more satisfying in the long run as well. It is something you have to work at at first but it is worth it.
I recall early in my career taking note of one of my work colleagues who seemed to be withdrawing from the group and spending more and more time by herself. I am not sure why but I found that troubling and so one day I took the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about it. At first she was hesitant but when she realized that I was sincerely interested she eventually opened up about the issues she was facing, mostly personal but with the net result of causing her to question her career choice and effectiveness at work, with the team. In fact she had quietly been contemplating quitting. It was a shocking revelation for a number of reasons but chief among them was that she was truly gifted and suited for her work and had the potential for a long meaningful career. I shared that perspective with her and over the course of the next few days she eventually came around to understanding how her personal issues had colored her perspective on her value at work. She committed to working on those issues and was now free of the guilt she was feeling about her contribution on the job. She is still doing that work and is quite successful at it.
I didn't think much about it at the time or afterward either. That is until I was moved into management and given a leadership role in that group. It came as a bit of a surprise to me at the time but my boss told me that reports of my helping that colleague along with a few others had come back to him and that was the factor that tipped the scale in my favor when it came to deciding on who to select for that management opening. Funny thing is for most of those people the things we discussed or that I walked with them through had very little to do with the work we were doing and more to do about them.
Be a noticer, take the time to get to know your team; be there for them and help them succeed and I guarantee you that by being a noticer you will not only enrich the lives of those around you but your life as well.