The decathlon is a track and field competition involving 10 events – five on each of two successive days. Performances in the 10 events are scored by reference to a points table. The individual accumulating the highest number of points after the 10 events is declared the winner.
The decathlon is a menu of athletic events, testing an individual’s speed, endurance, strength, skill and determination. It clearly reflects the ancient Greek ideal of all-around, balanced excellence in sports. In fact, every four years, the winner of the Olympic Decathlon is dubbed the World’s Greatest Athlete, a title that has been bestowed on Americans such as Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner and Dan O’Brien.
The notion of the decathlon is not limited to the arena of track and field competition, however. Consider any other sport or athletic competition. Victory or success generally goes to the well-rounded competitor or team and not the individual or team with a single overpowering attribute. For example, those considered to be the world’s best gymnasts are those who have competency in most, if not all, of several different gymnastic apparatus.
The notion of the decathlon is not limited to athletic competition. Success in pretty much anything is a function of all-around, balanced excellence and not perfection in any one particular aspect.
Consider parenthood, one is not considered successful by merely being able to provide three nutritious, square meals. And one is not considered successful only by maintaining a safe and healthy home, or simply by devoting the requisite attention to the kids’ school work, social anxieties or need to play. No, success in parenting is a function of all of these things. In fact, if one were only competent in one area and deficient in all others, the person would likely be considered a bad parent.
Consider business as well, one is not considered successful by merely having a great product or service. And one is not considered successful only by having an interesting and catchy marketing program, or simply by having a great price, or sound distribution or any other single attribute of business. Success in business requires having the whole package. In fact, each and every year businesses that are great on one aspect and deficient in all others tend to founder or worse.
This notion of the decathlon also holds true for your networking efforts. Networking involves a variety of different activities. To be a success at networking, however, you must be reasonably proficient at all these activities and not simply seek to be overwhelmingly brilliant at any one.
For example, in keeping with the spirit of the decathlon, here are ten of many potential networking activities. No one alone can establish your networking prowess. All are required to make you proficient.
Getting Involved: You cannot effectively network sitting in your office chair. It takes getting up and getting out. Circulating. Becoming engaging. Involving yourself, formally or informally, in the lives of others and allowing them to become involved in yours. However, this alone does not ensure networking success.
Presenting Ourselves: For others to have an interest in associating with you, they need to have a reasonable understanding of who you are and what you do. For this to occur, you need to present yourself well, both verbally and physically. But a polished look and strong 30-second commercial is not enough to establish you as a great networker.
Listening: Inherent in networking is communication and implied in communication is hearing what others have to say and appropriately responding. Although good networking requires strong listening skills, strong listening skills in and of themselves do not guarantee you will be a good networker.
Discovering Common Ground: The bonds that tie you to your network are all those things you have in common with them. As such, much of networking success lies in discovering all of these mutual personal and professional attributes. But you can have a tremendous amount of common ground with your network and still not have enough to be a tremendous networker.
Remembering: The basis for a solid networking relationship is a mutual knowing, liking and trusting. Inherent in the first element, knowing, is remembering things you have learned and discovered about those in your network. It is this memorization that signifies to those in your network their importance to you. Without a reasonably good memory – especially with respect to people’s names – every meeting becomes a first meeting. Remember, however, remembering alone is not enough.
Following Up: People have contact with many individuals each and every day on various levels and for a variety of reasons, including you. You set yourself apart, however, by acknowledging your connection through an appropriate follow up, which demonstrates their importance. But if all you have is great follow up, in time you will have less and less to follow up on.
Contributing: You take to networking to advance yourself – to get. You soon realize, however, that for you to get you must endeavor to ensure that others get first. Hence, in working to become an effective networker you must contribute to others, giving information, time, energy, contacts and encouragement. If all you did to network, however, were give, your networking experience would be hollow.
Asking For Assistance: You ultimately cannot help others unless you have been helped yourself. To get the help you need, however, you need to dare to ask, appropriately and specifically. You know, however, that a polished request, no matter how eloquently stated, will not alone establish you as a strong networker.
Showing Appreciation: You can say “thank you” for anything; you should say “thank you” for everything. You should even take the opportunity to thank someone for thanking you (“I really appreciate that you took the time to acknowledge my effort”). Whenever you take the time to thank someone, you create an opportunity to further connect with them. But being great at expressing sincere appreciation does not alone establish networking greatness.
Being Patient: Networking is an ongoing wonderful adventure. The experience of the adventure cannot be evaluated on the basis of really any unit of time. You need to be patient and trusting that your networking experience will be a productive one. But patience alone will not do, especially if the patience you exhibit is only demonstrated sitting in your office chair.
Your success in networking, like any sport or aspect of life, is not a function of being the best at any networking skill. Rather, networking success requires that you be the best you can at all the skills required of networking.
Frank Agin writes a monthly sports themed networking series for SportsNetworker.com entitled “The Huddle“. Frank is the founder and president of AmSpirit Business Connections and consults with individuals and businesses on how to become more successful through networking. He is the author of two sports related novels, Out of the Comfort Zone., and his latest hit, Rival.