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Lesson 4: Building contacts: A One-Way Ticket with Open Return

It was a cold, cold January afternoon in Washington D. C., actually it was January 20th - and those of you familiar with the constitution of the United States will already guess it was Inauguration Day. A comparatively young new president got up on the podium, the hopes of many Americans and, actually, a lot of other people around the world behind him. He was expected to bring significant change to the US and the rest of this planet we call our home ...

Picture: Mariesol Fumy , www.youthphotos.eu
Think outside the box!

Please, dear reader, don't hit the Jeopardy buzzer quite yet and yell "Who is President Obama?" into the microphone, since I am writing about the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. And one of the many remarkable phrases he left us with, this one part of his inaugural address on that cold afternoon in 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Ever since then, I guess, speechwriters have tried to come up with something of similar simplicity, sense and seriousness - and not too many have succeeded. However, that's another story.

The way I would like you to reflect on this legendary statement today has to do with the upcoming European elections. And something related to an element of (but not limited to) politics in general. Just in case you haven't noticed yet - there are going to be elections to the European Parliament in June 2009. I myself had to look up the date since the event appears to get rather poor media coverage at the moment - it seems most front page space is still taken up by the ongoing economic turmoil.

Now, a first step in following Kennedy's legendary advice would be to make sure you cast your vote in June. Given that voter turnout has been depressingly low in recent years, please do make sure you tick a box in June. And tell everyone you know to do so, too. This was the public service announcement part of this column.

<table class="profileBox_right" style="width: 276px; height: 216px;" border="0" align="right"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <img src="UserFiles/Image/jor/jan onno reiners_small_square.jpg" alt="jan onno" width="120" height="120" /> <h2>jan onno reiners, PHD</h2> <p>Jan Onno Reiners works as executive coach, trainer and keynote speaker in Berlin. His background includes a PhD in biotechnology, seven years of strategic management consulting and improvisation theatre. Find out more about him and his work on <a href="http://www.jorhd.com">www.jorhd.com</a>.</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table>

I guess a further step along Kennedy's path would be to consider a career in politics, but that's not where I would like to divert your attention just yet. Kennedy's statement is echoed in an element of politics which is also common to successful careers in general: professional networking. In networking, there is a basic rule which is often overlooked:

"Don't consider what the person you just met can do for you - think about what you can do for this person."

This seems to be the mantra of successful networkers these days. Or as Jan Vermeiren states it in his book listed below: "[Networking is] Sharing information in a proactive and reactive way without expecting anything in return." Some people still mistake networking with lobbying or even schmoozing. When Joe Smith lobbies for something, he does expect something in return: attention for his cause, a donation or even a vote in his favour. However, successful networkers take a completely different approach: they offer their support, help, time, knowledge and contacts freely, with absolutely no strings attached. It is less a technique than a state of mind. You don't want to push your agenda, your views or even your product - you want to be helpful to others in a professional context and manner. And you don't do it by advertising your helpfulness on huge billboards - you simply do it.

Yes, networking takes time and effort and, indeed, more than a few clicks online. However, the strange thing is, although you do not expect anything in return, the rewards from successful networking will come to you. Not instantaneously. They will come, though. Often at a time when you least expect it, and from a surprising direction.

And should you indeed consider a career in politics, may I recommend taking a good look at a fantastic TV show, "The West Wing"? My favourite line from the fictitious US President, Jed Bartlet, is: "What can I do for you?"

Have a nice day!

PS: This is my fourth column "from the couch", and so far, I have managed to overcome sporadic writer's block with inspiration from my spouse, my friends and the "E&M" team. Thanks to all of them! However, I want this column to continue to be relevant to you, my readers, and therefore I would welcome your input: What questions would you like to see addressed in future instalments?

Recommendations:

"Let's Connect!" (Jan Vermeiren)

"The West Wing, Seasons 1-7" (DVD)

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