Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

When it comes to “networking” in the traditional sense, there’s certainly a spectrum of opinions about it. There are those who love it and can’t help but do it everywhere they go (stereotypical extrovert; think: Sales guy) and those who dismiss, even despise the concept (stereotypical introvert, think: Actuary). But “networking” is simply a buzzword for building and maintaining relationships.

Creating and enhancing our human support systems and sources of information is a necessity for us as we learn and grow, in our work and otherwise. Whether you identify more with the stereotypical Sales Guy or Actuary, you are probably networking already, just in a way that is comfortable for you. You’re doing it every time you interact with someone else: telling jokes to strangers at a big party or comparing data with colleagues over e-mail.

The people who know us are our community – our “network” – and part of what a community can do is help us reach our objectives. Here are a few ways to take what you’re doing already and make an adjustment that allows you to get lots more out of interactions with others:

If you’re already: Shooting interesting articles to your direct colleagues
You can also: Share it outside your group.

Have some insightful document or new learning that you think might be beneficial? Also send it to a couple of people with whom you could use more visibility. Tie it in to what you know about issues they’re working on, and you’ll succeed on a few fronts: you’ll contribute to building the relationship through generosity, you’ll demonstrate interest in – and understanding of – what’s going on for them, and you’ll open the door to further conversation.

If you’re already: E-mailing to keep in touch
You can instead: Pick up the phone.

Pretty good at nurturing your network through thoughtfully crafted notes on a regular basis? It’s a great practice, but it can take a lot of time, and your low-priority “hello” note can sit there until the recipient has the spare time to respond.  A friendly no-agenda-but-to-check-in phone call is a fast fix. Whether it’s  “how are you?” “how’s business?” or “I was just thinking of you because….”, with a genuine smile and sentiment, it can be a very effective way to connect. Yes, it might be a little random, but that’s a good thing; a great way to stand out! Once you get a feel for how to do this in your own words, it’ll be a valuable tool to keep yourself from becoming another to-do in their InBox.

If you already: Have an enviable network in your line of business
You can now: Diversify

Consider the different types of people who would help you forward your objectives.  Individuals with different skills sets, in different businesses, with different personalities can provide valuable new perspectives. This isn’t about endlessly building the numbers of people you know, but more about making sure you haven’t limited yourself by connecting only with people who are like you.

If you’re already: Boldly securing meetings with new business contacts
You can also: Ask for a name.

No matter your networking purpose – career growth, business building or otherwise – asking about where to go next will expand your reach of relationships through warm leads. In practice, this might sound like: “It was great chatting. Thank you. Meeting with people is a valuable way for me to……. Who else would you suggest I speak to?”

If you’re already: Frequenting “networking events”
You might try: Being pickier

Get more by doing less? That’s the idea! Here’s my suggestion:  Even if you love working the room and making a lunch out of hors d’oeuvres, be sure it’s worth your time. Get really clear beforehand about who/what type of person you are targeting and what impression you’d like to leave with them. You’ll find the most uniform groups when there’s a speaker. When you can imagine what type of individual would be interested in a particular topic, you can predict who might be at that event. If those are your potential clients, sponsors, “ins” (to whatever you’re trying to “get in” to) then make time for it.

If you’re already: Going on dates
You can also: Ask out someone whose career you admire!

Whether it’s the guy in your dream job, an entrepreneurial cousin, or your boss’ boss, a note asking for their advice/guidance over coffee is all you need in the way of an invitation. Have 3 key questions prepared to get the inside scoop on how they do what they do so well and how it might apply to your current goals and challenges.


This is all about building on what’s working. You’re already networking in some way, shape or form…I promise! Starting with what comes naturally is the best place to challenge yourself to step it up.

Cinders McLeod For The Globe and Mail

Cinders McLeod For The Globe and Mail

In my latest contribution to Globe and Mail’s Nine to Five column, my hope was to open up for this reader various options in a situation that seemed extremely limited, and help highlight his power to choose.

The Question:

For years I’ve been a hard worker at a U.S.-based global IT corporation where I have earned top performance reviews, but I have never received a promotion. I spend my personal time learning new tools and have become the de facto teacher and mentor for new hires on our team.

This year I applied for an position on our team that was one level up, a job I could handle easily. I was denied on the basis that I am in Canada and our budget is different. The rest of my team is based in various U.S. cities. It seems that team members not located near our U.S. headquarters are being ignored for promotion or forced to move there.

I am at one of the lowest pay levels on our team, and my colleagues, team leader and manager agree this is unfair. But they are overridden by higher levels of management. I’ve approached HR about my pay but nothing has changed. What should I do? I love the job but it lost a lot of flavour when this brick wall was thrown up in my face.


My Answer:

You’re staring at the brick wall and inviting others to do the same; nodding in agreement at the tragedy of this limitation, and hoping someone will build you a door. The only tragedy here is that you underestimate your power. You have top performance reviews, cutting-edge skills, support from managers and colleagues, and a bent for putting in extra effort. The power is in the options open to a high achiever like you. Faced with a brick wall, you might:

Break through it. Be the exception to the geography rule by proving yourself more than a budget item. Target someone in upper management and participate in projects that make you more visible to him or her. Fly down to HQ to chat in person about your excellent work, your desire to contribute to the company’s future and to request advice about expanding your career as a Canadian contributor.

Turn your back on it. Beef up your résumé and take it on the road. Create a list of target companies and roles and, in conjunction with applying for posted positions, boldly network your way in.

Hang pictures on it. Life is about tradeoffs. If your location limits your job prospects but you’re otherwise happy, you might embrace the mantra “location, location, location.” Celebrate being able to make a living in a place you love.

Walk around it. Remove upper management’s excuse. Move to the HQ city and make it known that you’re there for one reason: to take on a more senior role.

Take the energy you spend fretting and direct it toward actively managing your career.


Photo by: UK in Spain

Photo by: UK in Spain

You learn something startling about a new hire’s past. What do you do? Here’s what I recommended when the question was posed to me in the Globe and Mail’s 9-5 Career Advice column

Reader Question: My company recently announced the hiring of a new vice-president. The announcement mentioned that this new hire had previously worked at a company where a good friend of mine was employed. When I called my friend to ask whether he knew this person, his review was extremely negative. My friend characterized this new hire as “a bully” and “extremely toxic – he’ll poison everything he touches,” and alluded to the fact that the manager was found to have misrepresented himself , claiming to have credentials that he did not have. Now he’s working for my company. I won’t report directly to this person, but I know people who will. I like my job and I like my company, so I feel that I should say something to our human resources department to make sure that they’re aware of this person’s history, and do what they can to prevent disruption. Do you have any advice?

My Answer: Your superhero reaction of “I’ve got to do something!” is admirable. It shows courage, loyalty to your organization, and empathy for those around you. But before you put on your cape, I encourage you to slow down and reflect on the facts, and to play out the scenario after you sound the alarm. Your friend really didn’t like this guy; that is obvious. And maybe he was a horrible person at his last job. But what if it was the last job – the people, the demands – that brought out the worst in him? What if his behaviour was a reaction to stress in his personal life? Maybe he was being pressured to act a certain way. Or perhaps he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. And you say, “Yes, but what if he’s just pure evil?” My point is, you don’t know. Given this uncertainty, can you justify accusing HR of missing something in their hiring process? Consider that you’d also be sabotaging this person’s reputation before he sets foot in the door, and risk appearing as a gossip or tattletale. Say you do stick your neck out: What exactly do you picture happening to “prevent disruption?” Another option is to trust that your colleagues are savvy enough to form their own opinions, strong enough to stand up for being treated respectfully, and resourceful enough to do something about it if they are not. They may not need you to swoop in to save the day, but they are lucky to have you as an ally if your support is needed.

Photo by: damselfly58

Photo by: damselfly58

Your supportive friend, your hard-working colleague and even your loving partner may unknowingly be sabotaging your pursuit of a personal and professional growth. And you are thanking them for it!

Think about it. How many times have you shared an “I’m so ridiculously busy” story with a friend? You support each other, wish out loud that things were different and together commiserate about what can’t get done because of all the time-sucking events on your calendar. You laugh and pat each other on the back for fitting in time to shower.

What about complaining about the politics in your organization? You chat with your colleague about the circumstances that limit your chances at every turn. “Playing the game” is the only way to get ahead, but you and he have decided to simply put your head down and work hard. You are grateful to have a buddy as you “take the high road”.

Or maybe this one sounds like you: You’d love to switch jobs, but in this economy? I mean, THIS ECONOMY? Each time you broach the subject of a change with your partner and articulate your own fear of the idea, he commends your judicious decision to stay put. You feel comforted.

Can you see it? These well-intentioned people are colluding with the little voice in your head that prefers the comfortable status quo. While that little voice keeps you safe, it also keeps you small, because it tells you to remain where you are when you are really meant to be so much more.

I wish we had more voices like entrepreneur and author Meredith Fineman, who, in an HBR blog last month, calls us on our shtick right in the title of her piece:“Please stop complaining about how busy you are”. She voices her annoyance with this pervasive conversation topic in our society, and offers some suggestions on how to deal with a high volume of work. The message I heard is this: If you don’t like it, do something about it (except complain).

Just as Fineman is tired of people’s “busy” stories, perhaps it’s time to admit you may be growing tired of your own sorry-for-myself tale, whatever the theme. Catch yourself when you invite others to fortify it.

Instead, ask yourself: “what’s the 2% of my situation that I can control”? From there, start broadening the possibilities around what to do with this power. I think you’ll be surprised at your resourcefulness once you take some ownership of your circumstances.

It may take time, resilience and reminders as you create change. But you don’t have to do it alone. With a new narrative to share, you can go about realigning your loyal network to support your determination.

Photo by: triviaqueen

Photo by: triviaqueen

Last week I again had the chance to contribute to the “Nine to Five” column in the Globe and Mail. This one was challenging to answer because I found myself just dying to ask more questions about this person and his/her experiences in order to facilitate the self-reflection necessary to make decisions in tough situations like this. Writing into a newspaper to make a serious decision is pretty much the opposite of looking inside oneself for the answer….but I tried to point him/her back to where he will find the most reliable guidance.



I joined a technology start-up technology company 6 years ago in a management position.  At the time, the expectation of the founder and senior execs was that we would build up the company and sell to a strategic buyer within 5 years.  Personally, I would enjoy nice a financial gain from my shares and options that would about double my own retirement savings, enabling me to retire at age 55 (which I turned last year). Well, for various reasons, both internal and external, things have not moved as quickly and I think an exit is still all of 2 years away.  And, there’s still a risk that it won’t happen. I’m wondering whether the opportunity cost of working the last 6 years at 2/3rds of market value is going to be worth it in the end. I enjoy my job but I’m wondering if I should go somewhere else where they can pay me full market value and work until I’m 60 and have enough money put away to retire without relying on the financial windfall?


Will the past 6 years be worth it in the end? Look at it this way: You’ve spent them at a job you enjoy (you must know this is not a small thing – just survey your friends) with your eye on a best-case-scenario that made your work exciting. Sounds like that in itself had worth, and I hope you can take credit for granting yourself the experience. I know you want the story to end with fireworks and celebration. But as you’ve witnessed, it’s impossible to accurately predict the future; there’s always an element of gambling.

Quick: If you promise yourself to abide by my “stay” or “go” recommendation, what do you secretly hope my answer will be? 

Go with that one. Because my gut instinct is you have a gut instinct. Not about the business outcome, but about the right move for you. The decision that will allow you to sleep at night is the one that best aligns with your personal values. If you’re the type to say, “What’s life without taking chances?” you are clearly an adventure-seeker who will have a hard time forgiving yourself if you leave and the company is sold. On the other hand, if you’re known to say, “Whatever happens, I’d rather be sure”, then predictability is important to you and it’s likely time to find a full-paying job and plan the details of your retirement at age 60.

After navigating through ambiguous circumstances like yours, I have heard both disappointed and delighted people explain, “What can I say? I went with my gut.” I’ve never heard any of them say, “I shouldn’t have trusted my instincts.”

Photo by Renée S. Suen

Photo by Renée S. Suen

You say “please” and “thank you”. Of course you do. It’s ingrained into us early, and by-and-large, most of us mind our manners and teach these basics to our children as soon as they start to interact with others.

But when it comes to accepting compliments, we chronically forget our manners. It happens at parties, at home and at the office.

I get it; accepting compliments well can be uncomfortable or even confusing. So here’s a little quiz: How would you instinctively respond to the following compliments?

– A party guest remarks: “You’re a great dancer!”

You say:
a) Ha! Hardly.You clearly don’t get out much.
b) You must have been fooled by the fancy dip at the end.
c) My partner can make anyone look good on the dance floor.
d) So are you!
e) Thank you.

– Your spouse notices: “You look great in that sweater.”

You say:
a) You like anything I wear that isn’t black.
b) Shows what high quality fabric can do.
c) I didn’t pick it. It was a gift.
d) I like your sweater too!
e) Thank you.

– Your manager says “This report is really well organized!”

You say:
a) Seriously? It has a long way to go before I’d call it “well organized”.
b) I used the expensive coloured dividers!
c) I had very little to do with it. It was all the team’s work.
d) Your reports are always immaculate.
e) Thank you.

If your go-to response is anything other than “thank you”, you might consider building a new habit. One who offers a compliment has put him/herself out there to offer their opinion and the polite thing to do is to thank them for doing so. Anything different may make them feel wrong, not listened to or dismissed, which is an awful thing to get in return for trying to do something nice. So don’t take a chance, even for the sake of trying to be modest, funny or fair.

If inspired to do so, you can certainly add something to your “thank you”. This comment might be something further about you, or about their compliment. Some examples:

Compliment: “You’re a great dancer”
About you: “Thank you. I love dancing.”
About them:  “Thank you. That’s really kind.”

Compliment: “You look great in that sweater”
About you: “Thanks. I’ve been looking out for it on sale and it finally happened yesterday.”
About them: “Thanks. You’re my best confidence booster.”

Compliment: “This report is really well organized!”
About you: “Thank you. A lot of work went into it.”
About them: “Thank you. Your opinion means a lot.”

“Thank you” does not mean “I know”. It doesn’t even have to mean “I agree.” It is simply means you appreciate them giving you the compliment.  Accepting compliments graciously demonstrates confidence, openness, respect for others and for yourself. It makes you look good. And if you let it, a compliment can make you feel great, too.