Board of Buddies: Making your friends a force in your professional life

main.jpgIn their excellent book Superconnect, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood emphasize the “strength of weak links,” recognizing that we can yield “enormous dividends” by reaching out to the acquaintances in our lives. This is the half of networking we’re always told to work on—as we build our group of professional acquaintances, we increase the chances that one of them will lead us to that perfect new opportunity or connection. There’s certainly some truth to this.

But the authors of Superconnect pay short shrift to the other half to networking (or as we should really be calling it: connecting). It’s not just about expanding your group of random “weak links.” It’s about habitually strengthening the bonds you have with your closest connections. When your good friends know what’s going on in your life, it makes it easier for them to offer support, accountability, and ideas. 

The best way to strengthen this close network is simple: Commit to seeing each other regularly. That’s it. Take this for example, every Thursday night a group of five friends and I choose a restaurant, show up, and chat. Over time, our conversations have evolved from sports chatter to more meaningful discussion around our newest personal and professional initiatives. As a group, we’ve connected each other to freelance work, helped with salary negotiations, and even launched a tour company. Once we committed to weekly meetings, this small group of friends became one of the more meaningful forces in my professional life.

How do you get one of these groups together and start reaping the benefits of your friends’ collective wisdom? In the words of Stanford improv professor Patricia Madson, great things happen when you “just show up.” So first: 

  1. Get something on the calendar. Using Google Calendar, Evite, or Eventbrite will make the whole thing seem more legitimate than the average get-together.  
  2. Brand it. Give your group a good name. Then, go as crazy as you want to with social media. My friends and I have a Twitter hashtag and a very active Facebook group. At some point, one of us made a logo. Now the whole enterprise seems too important to ever give up.
  3. Invite a few people. Start small. You can invite a group of folks that you know well or connect with regularly at YNPN-TC events. (Shameless plug: Your next YNPN-TC gathering opportunity will be at the LifeLab event on February 21.)
  4. Set the tone. You don’t need to beat anyone over the head with talk about careers or personal development. Just naturally bring up a challenge or accomplishment in your own life, and your friends will follow.

The best part about using this “board of buddies” is that you combine the benefits of professional mentorship with the sheer awesomeness of being with friends. At the very least, it’s regular socializing with people you like—which has been proven to do wonders for your well-being.

Want to take this concept even further? Formalize your group into apersonal board of directors with a specific focus on professional development. Though you’ll want more than just your closest friends on your board, there’s nothing wrong with asking one of them to be a core supporter as you take things to the next level.   

Have you tried something that lets you access your closest networks in a new way? Have you considered creating something like a board of buddies or a personal board of directors?

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