6 Ways to Build Your Own Personal Developmental Network

Not a Coach, Not a Mentor, a Network

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I had an exciting conversation Sunday with Debbie Lawrence. She told me via Twitter that she had an idea in need of thoughts. A few minutes later we were on the phone exploring fresh perspectives. She reached out to get input she needed, and I got to know more about her, about her dream, and about how she’s putting into action. Not a bad trade.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I did something similar. I reached out to people in my network to hear their thoughts on what I’m doing.

Every day I touch base with people to tweak what I’m thinking to check on directions I might go. I’ve done this consistently with the most important challenges I’m pursuing. The people I ask are my Personal Developmental Network — a small group of intelligent, incredible people, who help me stay on track with my goals.

6 Ways to Build Your Own Personal Developmental Network

Many folks find a mentor by accident. Some never had one. Some turn to the closest person they meet at a new job or choose to go it alone it. Others work with a coach or a trainer. A few make a commitment to a mastermind team. They’re similar, but not the same as a Personal Developmental Network.

In their Wall Street Journal report Kathy E. Kram and Monica C. Higgins defined a personal developmental networks this way.

A better approach is to create and cultivate a developmental network — a small group of people to whom you can turn for regular mentoring support and who have a genuine interest in your learning and development. Think of it as your personal board of directors

Kram and Higgins’ approach to building a developmental network is career and business focused — pointing out how network composition might change based on where we are professional path: entry level, midcareer, or senior manager. Their suggestions focus on career goals.

Their key steps match my own, but their execution is more narrow.

I need a more holistic approach. I don’t want a professional life that’s divorced from my life as a human. When I face down my hugest goals and quests, I want my whole life — head and heart — focused on the same purpose. So I suggest that we start with their key steps to building a Personal Developmental Network and expand them to include more than what happens under the heading “business / professional.”

For me, the purpose of a Personal Developmental Network is to offer guidance in becoming the best I can be inside and outside the world of business. My approach to building my network is life focused — I want a network that helps me grow as a human meant to achieve something and I believe that a network that grows with me offers depth and insight that are priceless.

Here are the five solid, complete, and intuitive main ideas Kram and Higgins put forward and suggestions after each for building your own Personal Developmental Network.

1. Know Thyself — Start with a foundation of concrete not sand.
— Qualitative Observations: Ask people who know you to describe your strongest traits — those that serve you well and those that get in the way. You’ll recognize the people who know you best by the way that you think, feel, and act in their presence. When we’re with people who know us, we don’t think about our responses or edit our behaviors. Explain why you’re asking and offer them more than one way to give you feedback: directly to you in person, on paper, via an interview by a mutual friend.

— Quantitative Assessment: Go over every test, performance appraisal, and personality measure you’ve taken. Check out others for a fresh view and learn what you can from them. Look for friends who have worked with the tools or tests you choose. You might try a combination of Strengths Finder, the Enneagram, and the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.

— Personal Reflection: Spend an hour / day for a week thinking about past successes in your life — in personal and business situations. Look for traits and strategies that served you through all of them.

Know what you know and know its value.

2. Know Your Context — Pick your path.
Look three years down the road and visualize where you want to do be. Draw that picture out in as much detail as you possibly can. If you can’t settle your mind on one single path, perhaps that the first task to work on with your network.

3. Enlist Developers — Choose unique and valuable guides.
Choose people you would bet your reputation on — people who share your standards and have similar goals. Take care to choose people who also offer different views. A strong network might include:

— a close friend who knows you and your history, both business and personal.
— someone from your business industry who knows you less well
— two or three someones who are from other industries
— two or three someones you respect and admire, but don’t know well

Decide how you’ll keep them in your life. Will you meet with them when you have questions or meet regularly?

4. Regularly Reassess — Seek opportunities to learn what you’re learning.
Go back to the assessment in Step 1 on a regular basis. Check in with those close friends by asking, “How’ve I changed that you can see?”

5. Develop Others — Return the favor and pay it forward.
Be of service to the people who are helping you. Always reach out for ways to give back more than you receive. When someone teaches you a skill, ask how you might use that skill to help that teacher. Ask questions, listen actively, and be first to offer a favor without strings. People remember sincere curiosity and true generosity.

The best way to seal what we’ve learned is by teaching. Offer to help someone who thinks you’ve already arrived. Take every opportunity to reach out to offer what you’ve learned.

6. AND THE ONE THAT WAS MISSING — Communicate. Let your network know when you need help, when you have questions, or even when you need to vent in a safe venue. A developmental network that doesn’t know where we are can’t help us move ahead.

A developmental network is not made from casual friending or confirming of followers. It’s the people who understand why we’re passionate about our calling. Like a personal board of directors, a true developmental network is people who know us, who value our trust and our reputation, and who are willing to offer their best thinking to move us forward. If we choose them well, we grow in all facets of our life.

Watch for and welcome every wise teacher you encounter. Wisdom and experience are a prize. True teachers show themselves by offering advice, expecting nothing in return. Mentors who come your way, offering experience and connections, see something in you. Let them help you discover what that is and what it could be if you let it grow.

Welcome all wise teachers into a Powerful Developmental Network.

Nobody likes to go it alone, and it’s not a good idea. We need each other for information, insight, and inspiration.

I bet you’ve got some sort of Personal Developmental Network already started. What sort of teacher is missing? How might you more fully engage those important teachers and supporters in the quest you’re on?

–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you think Liz can help you find focus or direction, check out the Work with Liz!!

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  1. says

    A barn raising is all about turning to your neighbors to do what can not be done alone…I think I’m beginning to “see” where you are going with this and indeed if my vision serves me, it does seem replicable. I like how trust gets thrust into the center of the model. That is key. Nobody want a 16 inch beam hitting them in the head…

  2. says

    Hi Liz

    A true network – or friend – will tell you when things are not working, I hope.
    So just to let you know your link “Watch for and Welcome” ends up somewhere else than I think you intended 😉

    As for the importance of a trustworthy network: once found (or should that be founded?) you have to cherish it as a valuable asset, not just in business but in live too.

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  3. says

    Love this piece and (can you hear the Twilight Zone theme-song playing?) did something similar – albeit with less measured forethought (something to be said for it!) – a few years ago.

    Hungry for a growth-focused community (answering a calling I didn’t see clearly for a year or more), I began an informal search for a network to replace the one I had as a coach in training, and this is what showed up.

    I joined a Success Team made up of 5 passionately entrepreneurial folks with a sense of calling and mission (very important to me) and differing points of view (cross-pollination so it was less likely I’d get rigid or stuck in my views). We just shared dinner together, bringing 7 years of unbelievable connection and mutual support to an end: moves, marriages and more made it clear that our time together, at least formally, was complete.

    Four folks from my graduating coach training joined me in setting up monthly calls to touch in, share what was up and elicit ideas, honest but heart-felt critique and all-round support. In five years we’ve only missed two calls, and the value of our connection is incalculable.

    I sought out a spiritual mentor – someone with experience in business and a long history of non-denominational spiritual focus (as a spiritual free agent, that was key for me) who could help me stay sharp, honest, open and real with my eye/heart on what really mattered most. Can’t say enough about the value of that.

    Last, and most unexpectedly, while my husband/partner and I did interviews and research to help us suss out and solidify our working True Callings theories, we met folks living their callings really successfully and set up regular calls (the recordings of which are our learning library) and found that, over time, there was a whole whack of mutual learning and out of the box living resulting from those calls.

    And then there’s my client work, which demands that I stay on my toes and keep playing my best game so I can serve to the best of my ability. I’ve made it a regular practice to have a monthly check-in conversation with each of them where I ask they honestly assess my performance, and that’s been a huge boon.

    Looking back Liz, I can’t help but wonder what this network of mine – formal and informal – would have looked like if I’d had your guideline to work from. And now that I’m looking for a new Success Team (feeling a little orphaned, to be honest) I appreciate having this in hand and look forward to seeing it help me add – and share – more value more intentionally.

  4. says

    Thinking about how developing networks in a transparent way can help us model network-creation for our students.

    And wondering what they can teach US about network development.

    Thank you, Liz!

  5. says

    You know that zen proverb of “when the student is ready the teacher appears?” Well one of the things I love so much about Twitter and Linkedin is that I’m surrounded by all kinds of teachers. All I have to do is show up and ask, and wisdom appears. Within minutes, I can find a choice of teachers, referrals, folks to hire, answers, new ways to do things… whatever I want is there, almost instantly. And because folks know I’m always there to help in return, it’s like a big happy circle rather than a one-way street. We’re all developing each other. :-)

  6. says

    Like Amy said just before this comment, I agree that somehow I always find the right information from the right person at the right time. Something about being aligned with our purpose, and being a little fearless in our exploration (HT to Richard Reeve) that opens up the right doors. It is very helpful to have a core group of people to trust and get continual feedback on our personal and professional development. What you have laid out is precisely what good leaders must do to build their vision around the future they desire to create.

    Thanks for your insightful views and being a beacon of light for us students.

  7. says

    Awesome advice Liz. and I think its timely too, given the not so brilliant economy, its a great time to learn to “fix our own homes” and re-evaluate ourselves.

  8. says

    With song-writing and music here in Austin luckily we have our Austin Songwriter’s group, what a supportive bunch with plenty of expertise to draw on when I need a little direction. Or inspiration.

    And about blogging I feel my gurus thus far are you, Barbara Swafford, Cath Lawson and Vered (Vered of Mom Grind.)

    I feel awfully lucky.

  9. says

    Everyone has brought so much wisdom to this post, as usual.

    Richard, no beams in the head is what we’re talking about. No running into walls is also a good rule.

    Lisa, your experience is a blog post. I hope you write it.

    Amy and Juliann, much to be said about being open to the teachers around us — like the folks in this comment thread. :)

  10. says

    I would only add to never overlook someone as a potential mentor – even your students.

    Everyone has something to teach and even the lessons we think we already know can be relearned again and even the most unlikely of circumstances can bring new understanding.

    Love this post and thank for sharing!

  11. says

    Liz, this is really terrific. Thanks for taking the time to put this together and share. It makes great sense, is simple to digest and is one of those timeless posts that is well worth coming back to.

  12. says

    Great points!

    Napoleon Hill speaks about having a mastermind team in the book “Think and Grow Rich”. Read the chapter titled, “Power of the Master Mind”.

    Send me an email through my site if you want a link to an eBook/audio book version. I don’t have a link handy.

    It’s the bible of self improvement and achievement.

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