The image above shows me “doing rounds” in the Middle East back in 2005. It’s how I learned how to speak Arabic. It’s also how I quickly developed one of the largest professional networks in my job despite having been one of the youngest and least experienced members in a half-billion-person large organization. Because of my strong network of relationships, I was quickly seen as a leader among my peers, which enabled me to lead large, prestigious initiatives far sooner than anyone had imagined — while being as many as three decades younger than those I led.
Focusing on relationship building is how I did it.
I was once a Resident Assistant in my undergrad dorms. I was basically just like you or any other student — only with a walkie talkie and a mandate to pour your liquor out in the sink whenever I caught you drinking on campus. As an R.A., I had a 24-hour work shift every week where I was on call for anything that happened. Most of the time, I dealt with noise complaints and people locked out of their rooms. Sometimes the issues were more serious. I once responded to an attempted suicide. Another time, my best friend responded to a stabbing.
Our particular program was big into being proactive. We were required to do “rounds” when we were on duty — just walk around every dorm, every hall, and see what was going on, four times during our shifts. It was an effective method for catching issues before they escalated.
We were only required to do “rounds” during shifts, but we were highly encouraged to do them any time to build relationships in our dorms. Wanting to have a good, healthy dorm, I tried to do at least one round around my building every day — that way when my residents saw me, it wouldn’t only be in a policing function. I could ask how they were doing and build relationships, or even friendships. Some people took just days to build a good relationship with, others took weeks, and some took months. But with time, patience, and a little creativity, I eventually built a strong relationship with everyone in my dorm — and with many outside of it.
I took this approach with me on my first full-time career. Whenever I had some downtime, or if I was feeling a little frustrated and needed a break, I did my rounds. I walked around the hallways and checked in on as many people as I could. I focused on people I had met somewhere already — in a meeting, at a work function, etc. And then I’d sit and chat and get to know them.
At some point, the conversations inevitably circled back to work. I used this to my advantage. I tried to figure out what it was they knew more about than I did, and I’d ask them their opinions. I’d pitch ideas I was working on that were relevant to them and see if they had insights.
After a few months of doing these rounds, I had already built a powerful network of people who considered me not only a friend, but a smart, professional go-getter. And I knew exactly who it was that shared my thinking and my goals — people I could call on when I needed them later.
Within just a year of doing this, my network transformed into a team of movers and shakers who were leading change at all levels of the organization. Before I knew it, senior executives were telling each other and their staffs “you need to talk to Andre,” because I was the one who knew the answers (or if I didn’t, I definitely knew how to find them). This was because I knew who and where all of the best, smartest professionals were; and they knew my name and enjoyed giving me their opinions, because I not only treated them with care and respect, but also tailored each of my relationships to their own unique strengths. I never put them in an awkward position. When I came to them, they knew it was because I believed in them and wanted to give them a chance to use their strengths and shine. After a while, those in my network didn’t just love working with me — they loved volunteering to work with me.