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Connecting Others Is Networking at Its Finest

April 30, 2024
Crosspollination can happen in surprising (and sometimes informal) ways.

In preparation for an event for Women in Manufacturing, ladies brainstormed some questions for me to think about prior to our interview.

I find it fascinating to hear what resonated with the readers of my book, “Leading with Grit and Grace.” What’s interesting is I never feel like I am asked the same question twice.

Why is that? Because everyone has a unique history and perspective. In addition, my readers face a lot of the same struggles personally and professionally. But, they may face them at different times in their lives and careers.

One particular question struck a chord with me:

“What is one thing you wish you knew earlier in your career?”

Oh, boy! I wish I had understood that I did not have to have all the answers. Certainly, no one would believe that one human could possibly know everything. Yet, there is real pressure to prove yourself, which sometimes leads you to believe you should have all the answers. Now I understand that I simply had to know whom to ask. I had to connect with others. And what I learned was that people were more than willing to help. In fact, they were delighted to be asked!

Now, as I told you in my January column, my one-word goal for the year is “connections.” But I did not expect it to manifest the way that it has. Isn’t life funny that way? Initially, I was thinking about strengthening the connections I had personally and professionally. Yet, what I am finding happening is that I am helping others make connections.

Let me tell you a few examples.

Iron Sharpens Iron

I lived in Pennsylvania for eight years. I have many acquaintances in the steel industry. When one of my peer-group members at the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services asked me for a reference for a materials-testing lab, I did not know the answer. But I knew just whom to call: Jay Griffin, a gentleman who was one of our favorite clients, a mentor and a personal friend with many years of metal-finishing experience. Jay didn’t just recommend one lab for the material testing—he recommended three!

I am calling this crosspollination. I have now connected one of my Tennessee contacts with one of my Pennsylvania contacts. They now each have access to a whole new network of people.

From Marketing to Automation

You may remember me telling you about Jonathan Darling’s presentation last month. By day, Jonathan is in the automation business. But his true passion lies in coaching specifically in the industrial sales and marketing arena.

It will come as no surprise that after Jonathan’s presentation, he was called upon by two participants in the peer group to come look at automating processes in their facilities.

As you all know, we have a workforce shortage in the United States, so automation allows us to get more work done without burning out people. And automation also allows us to do things more efficiently and safely.

Don’t be afraid to utilize your connections’ unique skills to better your performance. In this case, a marketing talk turned into automation projects.

Grit and Grace

Humans can surprise you. My family trains at a gym where pro athletes pop in and out mainly because everyone appreciates the owner, a retired NFL lineman, and his team of top trainers.

It is quite wild to be training next to these pro athletes. You just assume that you may not have much in common with them.

And then you strike up a conversation, realizing they are human just like you. Once again, the power of connections is at work. On a walk recently, my neighbor told me about a child in our community who had suffered terrible injuries in a freak dirt-bike accident, while wearing the proper safety gear. His one wish was for the NFL to know his story.

Because of my connections at the gym, I was able to make a phone call to get the ball rolling for the NFL to not only know his story, but for a player to visit him as soon as he is well enough to have guests.

What does it feel like to be helpful, and potentially fulfill a dream? It’s all about connections and a network of people you trust. Go build your network!

Ashleigh Walters is a leadership consultant at the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services. Walters was president of industrial furnace manufacturer Onex Inc. through 2022 and is the author of "Leading with Grit and Grace."

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