As something of a legal industry “Connector,” given my role as a partner with Major, Lindsey & Africa, executive legal search firm, I probably send about a dozen introduction emails a week, between GCs, GCs and law firm lawyers, GCs and aspiring GCs, legal organizations, etc. When I meet someone at an event or in a one-on-one meeting or someone asks me a question via phone, text, email or on social media, a light bulb goes off over my head based on something they said they were struggling with, needed, would like to have, and I offer to make an introduction that I think might help.
Personally, I love making connections within my company and outside in the world. I’m proud of this being a big part of what I am known for, and I work hard every day at trying to be a good Connector both in direct relationship to actual legal searches and detached from specific, current search opportunities. It is matchmaking on a professional level, an art, a game, a skill and a psychological puzzle. “How can I help?” and “Who can help?” can be absolutely thrilling—And so very, very satisfying when it works out.
How do I do it?
Here are my top 10 tips for being a good Connector:
1. Think through if you really want to be a Connector. Are you good at it? Do you have the time to devote to doing it right? Why do you want to do this? Do you expect immediate payoff/payback for yourself? It can be a lot of work for little to no (immediate, direct) payoff. And sometimes it comes back to bite you.
2. Have a good network. You can’t be a great Connector if you don’t have a wide, diverse pool of people to connect. Realistically, you can’t keep introducing the same two people to each other—can you? You need to constantly work on strategically growing and developing your network, not just with an eye toward how the connections can be of benefit to you but how you and your existing network might be of benefit to new connections in the short and long term. If you don’t believe in karma or “The Long Game,” being a Connector is probably not for you.
3. Have awareness of who is in your network. Thanks to my years of watching ALL of the soap operas and reading comic books and following very complicated story lines, I generally have pretty good, near instant recall of who I know, what I know about them and how they might be beneficially connected to someone else. I can quickly tell you that Jane and Fred both went to Stanford. Lisa and Jamal were both born in Des Moines. Tameka and Jose both work in financial services.
4. Consider the mutual benefits to be found for connecting various people in your network at this time. For example, Lionel is a new GC seeking mentorship. Luz is soon to retire as a GC and is open to mentoring new GCs.
5. Have a good sense of timing. Is this a good time to try to connect these parties based on what you know about their bandwidth right now, personally and professionally?
6. ALWAYS, always, always ask for consent from both parties before making any introduction. Yes, even before you make introductions to recruiters. There can be dynamics you don’t know about at play (including contractual) as to why it might not be a good idea to have a particular candidate introduced to a particular recruiter at this time, or there may be internal politics within the recruiting firm to be navigated regarding a potential candidate relationship.
7. Be as confident as you can be of the mutual benefit of the introduction and the ensuing behavior of the parties. If you know a particular GC has very little time and a particular individual seeking the introduction doesn’t have good judgment about reading the signs and respecting boundaries, don’t make the introduction. It all ends up reflecting on you and your brand/reputation as a Connector.
8. Connect the dots. Provide some data points/LinkedIn bio links to help them prepare for the discussion. A connection is more likely to be successful when the parties go into the interaction already primed for what they have in common, including knowing who they know in common. This will help them break the ice and be more eager and ready for a productive conversation.
9. Step away. Don’t push. Once you have made the introduction, leave the two parties to connect directly from there if, when and how they see fit. No pressure on them to actually follow through. You’ve done your bit. If they want to, they’ll follow through from there. Offer your continuing support if they need/want it. Remember, you asked in advance if both parties wanted this introduction—and they are both grown-ups. If they really want to pursue the connection from here, they will. If not, it was not meant to be at this time. Keep it moving.
10. Observe and tweak your Connector formula. Are you making the right kinds of connections? Seek feedback on your introductions to make sure you are generally doing them in the most beneficial way possible for all involved. Don’t strictly keep score/keep track of direct one-to-one, short-term payback you are getting, but if you come to realize that you are doing all of the giving and aren’t receiving *anything* back from your taking the time to make these valuable, thoughtful connections – no reciprocity, no update, not even a thank you, nor even an indication that the person to whom you are giving is at least paying it forward—SOMETHING—this should give you pause.
Everyone is very busy. No one wants their time wasted. And no one wants to add to their already substantial social/professional obligations unnecessarily. Everyone is conscious of the potential upsides (and downsides) of a very good (or very bad) professional connection. Career/life-changing job, client, panel/speaking, article, award, board and many other opportunities can all flow from a highly impactful introduction. Or it can be a huge, inconvenient, frustrating time suck. Being a Connector is not for the faint of heart but can payoff in the long-term if done well!
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Sonya Olds Som is a Partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago/Midwest office and is primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking, business development and marketing initiatives for our In-House Practice Group team throughout the Midwest. Sonya focuses on sourcing in-house counsel search opportunities for attorneys at all levels – from junior counsel to general counsel -- in corporate legal departments in a wide range of industries by developing and maintaining relationships with general counsel, human resource leaders and other C-Suite executives. Sonya also provides career advice to attorneys and is a recognized Thought Leader regarding diversity in the legal profession nationwide.