FEATURE PHOTO BY ERIC AIDEN ON UNSPLASH
Do you remember learning about food chains and webs in elementary school? Ecosystems are filled with millions of different species that need each other to survive. Some organisms consume in a linear sequence (food chain), while others depend on a network of connections (food web). These interactions are integral to the balance of an ecosystem.
The same could be said about our career or personal ecosystems. As humans, we thrive off interaction with others. Oftentimes our individual development comes through the stimulation and encouragement of those around us. The question that we face is what relationships do we tend to value and cultivate the most? For most people those would be familial relationships and long-standing friendships.
What about beyond that?
As our careers begin to blossom, we start to focus on who we should connect with on LinkedIn or what events will yield the most results. We begin to place priority on certain people and not others. To understand the value of these relationships, I have come up with a model based off the elementary science. Until I can come up with a better name, I will refer to this as the “Relationship (Food) Web.” In this model there are certain categories of relationships that I have seen through my career and education.
Relationship (Food) Chains
Gut instinct will tell most of us that we should be focused on meeting professionals at a higher standing than where we currently are. Executives, managers and professionals are in your vertical chain. We recognize that these individuals are in a place where we hope to be one day and so it’s essential to remain close and observe. Creating opportunities to be mentored can be extremely valuable and SHOULD be sought after.
In the early stages of your career, relationships with peers are extremely valuable. Classmates, friends and co-workers are in your horizontal chain. Unfortunately, these types of relationships are often not cultivated the way they should be. We can get into the trap of believing these relationships are only social or temporary. If we can break through that logic and recognize that peers are oftentimes your teammates and by working together you can accomplish greater feats.
Relationship (Food) Webs
A relationship food web is created when your vertical and horizontal chains are connected together. This is accomplished by forging strong relationships with peers and superiors, and finding opportunities to connect them together. This can be difficult and often involve multiple connections down a chain to work effectively.
To illustrate these principles, let me give you an example:
You meet an professional during a guest lecture at school. After the meeting, you exchange information and follow-up with them. Occasionally, you will reach out to them in email and express interest in working for them if a position came available.
You develop a strong relationship with a classmate that was a year further along than you in your studies. Perhaps you had classes together and have worked on a team. You are connected on social media and meet up for lunch on the occasion.
Your classmate works for a company and is receiving a promotion. They ask if their previous position is something you would be interested in applying for. After doing some research, you discover the executive that you had previously met works for the same company. Your classmate goes to their superior and recommends you to fill their position. Through your previous connection and the recommendation from your classmate, you are brought in for an interview and subsequently hired.
While this scenario seems to good to be true, it actually occurs fairly often. I have experienced that through my efforts to develop a relationship (food) web, doors have opened.
The takeaway that I want you to understand is that ALL relationships are valuable. As young professionals, you can place value in one chain and not the other. Both need to be cultivated and strengthened. As you place emphasis on connected your chains together you network will become stronger. Imagine for a moment the concept of ancient chainmail. On their own, individual rings can come apart. Even linked together in a chain, the material is still penetrable. But as the rings are woven together, you will find the strongest bond and the links will succeed in providing the desired result.