By Adebola Williams
Creating great connections, like every other form of art, is a craft built with intentionality and commitment. It takes time to master — longer for some than for others — and sometimes, it requires the development of a skill that must first be learned: the ability to speak to people (especially strangers) boldly. This skill, whether learned or inherent, forms the basis or foundation on which every great connection is made.
In my many years of personal and professional pursuit, I have very often found myself travelling from one country to another: going from meetings, to pitches, to conferences, to delivering keynote speeches and interviews amongst others. Sometimes these trips are far-spaced, other times they come one on the heels of another. Whether far-spaced or not, each of these trips and engagements is an opportunity to expand my network — so, I try to make it count. Why? Because your network (your access) is an invaluable asset both
home and abroad.
When going to a new country, your experiences are limited to your access and access is often created by people. Let me share a personal experience. A few weeks ago, I had to go to Geneva, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum Annual Young Global Leaders’ summit. Geneva is not a city I am conversant with. But I had friends in the city — eight to be exact — who were available to help me.
My friends and dear brothers, Bruno and Simone were on hand to look after me from the first day I arrived in Geneva. Simone’s family owns a bank which he leads, but he always makes time for me even if he has to bring his meeting along — because we have an established relationship. This relationship, and one I have with my (seven) other friends and brothers, was not formed in Geneva. In fact, I had only been there once: when I came to deliver a speech on the main plenary of the WTO alongside its DG.
I had had the opportunity to travel there in 2019 when I was named one of the Young Global leaders. Almost 400 YGLs from different continents had converged with the sole aim of forging alliances for greater impact in the world. However, I had not been able to make it in person — partly because of my schedule and partly due to COVID-19. So, how did I meet my friends and make invaluable connections? Well, I met Bruno, Simone and Daouda through the Choiseul Business Leaders community. Bechir, I met through my dear Tanzanian sister, Mwamvita Makamba. Dr. Wanjiru Rutenberg, our super Prof., is a #TutuFellow who was formerly based in Kenya. Huguitoni is a dear friend who I first connected with on social media, then later at my speech for the Wash Gala in New York. Nwatam is the diplomat who graciously arranged a visit with the Ambassador in Ghana just to honour me many years ago. And Lulu Shabell, I met in 2018 at the NBA games in Johannesburg. She had walked up to me and spoken of how she had followed me and loved my work for years.
These relationships I have nurtured over these years, sowed into and shared my special moments with. Bruno and Simone flew to Lagos for my wedding without thinking twice and were even at the bridal party (something they both talk about excitedly every time we get together). So did Huguitoni.
Although I couldn’t see all these great friends on this trip, Bruno, Simone and Bechir ensured I had an excellent time — from dinners at the lake to drinks at the finest rooftops. I made out time to return to the bank to create some business value. And I ensured to send a gift to Lulu’s son even though we couldn’t see (It’s really the little things).
Now back to the World Economic Forum Annual Young Global Leaders summit I was in Geneva for: It was a great couple of days with amazing opportunities to connect. WEF had gathered a very impressive group from Vice Presidents to Board Chairs, first this and first that. These people could become friends at the end of the three-day summit and family over time. It wasn’t convenient scheduling the trip but, understanding the power of networks, especially in a fast-changing world, I couldn’t resist it.
The first rule of making connections is to go there. You can’t make new friends at home and even if you do virtually, physical connections accelerate it. Meeting people across the globe is like gaining a key that opens doors to nations. So, go there (the event, conference, seminar etc.) and make sure you exchange details.
What do you do after exchanging details (cards and numbers)?
- Add the details directly to your phone immediately, cards become redundant.
- Describe their name in detail. For instance, Helene met at…. Country… occupation…
- Send a message within 48 hours of connecting. Either to verify they arrived safely or confirm yours. Follow up on a commitment you might have made during the connection- E.g., You promised to send them an item they liked on you. Any article to further a thought. Connect them to someone of interest in their line of work who is in your network.
- Break them down into priorities. Identify a particular number of connections that’s high priority, medium and low then schedule a time to check in on them all year round beginning from the next month.
- Whenever you are travelling somewhere, check your address book for your contacts in those countries so as not to forget to connect with them.
- Don’t be shy, invite them to a big celebration you have coming, a wedding, milestone birthday, etc.
- Share major good news with them or share work-related materials and progress with them. Basically, engage them. The amount of conversations you have will depend on how quickly you build but don’t overwhelm them.
- Take note of their milestones and send gifts if you can. If you can afford it, don’t try. DO!
- If it’s not really important, don’t make an ask. Focus on sowing.
- See next post for results/manifestation.
Here’s a thank you to my dear friends, a toast to making an effort to build new connections and doing the work of building and turning them into solid relationships.
Someone asked, how do I make friends as an introvert? I’ll deal with that in another post.
But while you wait for that, never forget that relationships are like seeds. You must water them, feed them, and nurture them so they grow to be trees. Humans are like trees, if you manage to grow many, it could become a fortress to protect you.