Andy Lopata is a leading networking strategist. He has written four books on networking and often been quoted in the media, including The Sunday Times, The Financial Times and Inc. In fact, the FT called Andy ‘one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists’ and both Forbes.com and The Independent called him ‘a true master of networking’.
Andy opened his afternoon workshop at Lady Val’s Professional Women’s lunch with a plea for us to “please stop lying!.” He explained that we are doing this every single day when we respond to the questions:
“How are you?” … “How’s work?” with … “I’m fine”.
He says this is a bad habit when often we are not fine and actually could do with some help! The problem is, so few of us are open to letting people in to help us.
Andy has developed a passion to help people open up
A member of the PSA (Professional Speakers’ Association), Andy recalled being at a PSA event in Reading, at a time while his business was struggling. The speaker asked a simple question. What is the status of your business? Is it Growing, Scaling, Stable, or in Decline? Andy realised that even in the company of his own tribe, his closest community, he was not able to be honest. Nobody was able to acknowledge whether their business was in trouble and in need of help. And the room was full of people who could help.
Andy is seeing this as a big trend. People are beginning to realise that they need to start being open and vulnerable instead of feeling the need to look good and strong to those around them. Nobody wants to look weak or feel a failure and yet our inability to be honest and ask for help can really hold us back. Of course it is natural to want to look good and strong to our peers.
Instead, finding a way to open up to the all the resources that are around us, inside the contacts the we already have, will help us move forward. Stop worrying about how you look, be honest with yourself and ask for help. Then you can tap into the resources that are in the room at whatever network or community event you are attending. We are always surrounded by answers. Just let them in by asking for help.
Andy tested the workshop audience. He came up with two common challenges that affect people in business and asked if we are facing these right now (hold up a red card); or if we have faced the challenge in the past but overcome it (hold up a green card); and if we have faced it in the past, overcome it but the challenge has come back (hold up both cards).
1 Time Management .. look round and see who is holding up a green card and could help you? If they have a red card then you know you have much to share with a common problem.
2 Courage of your convictions…. confidence to speak out about your beliefs?
It is our networks that are vital to us for support
When we look around and see who has the same challenge as us, and notice who has overcome that challenge, it creates a bridge for sharing and having honest and open conversations that could be transformative to our life and business.
Andy’s experience and insights have been channeled into a book coming out next year called “Just Ask”. He interviewed a wide range of people all over world, in business, music industry, politics … and gathered helpful insights and true stories where people overcame their blocks to reach out for transformative help. He said it was interesting discussing with UK politicians James Cleverly and Jo Swinson if we could allow our politicians to be wrong?
Let others in so they can make a difference in our lives
What beliefs do we have from our upbringing or life experience that stop us from reaching out for help or support? Andy has a strong background in networking and he wants to encourage us to let in colleagues and friends from our trusted networks to become resourceful allies to help us overcome problems. Don’t think that you have to face everything alone. Somebody, somewhere has experienced the same as you have and has overcome it .. in fact you might actually find that most people have had the same experience.
Do men find it more difficult than women to ask for help?
So much of this is tied to cultural difference. That is probably the case in very patriarchal societies or macho, male-dominated work places. Yes women are more used to asking, and also to supporting each other. Men can seem to prefer to find solutions by themselves. At the core, this is a human need and will be expressed differently according to the influence of culture and what is held to be appropriate. In Hillary Clinton’s last book she revealed that she had a close inner circle of trusted female friends and colleagues to whom she would open up. That is something we all need. Andy’s research reveals that women have circles of trust that includes both men and women. The safer the space that we can create, the more we feel we can trust and reach out. Women have had support communities for years and now men are finding this is now available to them with an increase in the number of men’s groups.
This is a tool that helps you to make an assessment for different areas of your life and work. That leads to an action plan (overleaf) in terms of you as an individual, your organisation and you as a leader. (Link to download this Wheel here Andy Lopata Rules of Asking. ).
Mastermind groups are vital
Finding a group of colleagues to work with, with whatever connection seems appropriate (for example same industry or location, same chapter or club members, graduates of a programme) is so helpful. This group can evolve over time into a really safe space to share our deepest fears and get valuable input for moving forward. It is almost impossible to lie in such an intimate group and candour is always rewarded. If you are not already in such a group it is worth finding one or even creating one.
Can we be honest at work?
Not every corporate culture is predisposed to openness and honesty, unfortunately. And even where this culture of open sharing does exist, the business can go through cycles where fear takes over. If employees sense that their leaders are holding back about the future of the company, it can really create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. If this goes on too long, it can be highly toxic and drive people out. Transparency, with agreed boundaries, is vital for a healthy office culture. We all need to feel safety at work to express ourselves and trust the company’s vision and direction (perhaps that is a new dimension to add to what can sometimes seem an old bugbear ‘Health & Safety’!).
What about honesty in Leaders?
Leaders have to be authentic. In times of difficulty and massive change, such as many companies and organisations are facing now with the uncertainty of Brexit looming, no single individual can hold a mandate to make change by themselves. They have to unburden, unload and share or they will simply burn out. Leaders have to give confidence and they do this by being truthful and authentic, not by trying to be positive.
Leadership and vulnerability
There is a fine line in authentic leadership of presenting capability and confidence, and honesty about the real situation. Each person has to find their own natural path to being friendly and connected to their team, while still commanding respect. You need both modalities not just one. It really is OK not to have all the answers. The important thing is be on the quest for solutions and involve others in this.
Easier to support others!
Just like advice is easier to give than to receive … many of us can find it easier to offer help than accept it. Get over that! As Andy says “Just ask!” Check out this handout from Andy Andy Lopata Rules of Asking
Andy Lopata is an author, speak and professional networking strategist
Lady Val’s Next Lunch event in London is on Thursday 28th November