One of my favorite children's book describes a couple who are unhappy with their home. They really like their neighbor's home, so they decide that they will sell their existing home and purchase a new home like their neighbor's. When they put their house up for sale, each potential buyer asks for small upgrades. Each week, as the couple work on small home projects based on the feedback they receive, the home becomes nicer and nicer. In the end, their home becomes so beautiful, that the couple chooses not to sell the home and happily live in the home they renovated.
This story portrays accurately the attitude many of us have in building relationships and networks, especially with respect to our careers. We feel dissatisfied with our existing network so we seek the kind of network that other successful people have.
Whereas the concept of extending your existing network is always a good idea, it is a mistake to focus on this at the neglect of the people in your existing circle. The fact is, for the most part, we are all surrounded by people with immense untapped potential. However, it takes a certain kind of awareness to recognize this (covered in part 2 of the series). Moreover, it takes a disciplined faithfulness to connect in this regard (covered in part 1 of the series). As a result, most of us embark on the seemingly easier route of finding successful people to connect with in hopes of having opportunity jump into our laps, magically.
Popular thinking would indicate that in order to be successful, we need to connect with people who are more successful than us. The paradox is that if we all followed this idea, no one would be capable of connecting with anyone. In any pairing, the more successful individual should not be effectively wasting their time with the person who is trying to connect with them. Simply put, someone must always be networking with a "less successful" individual. Such a model is unrealistic.
Instead, like the couple who upgraded their home until they no longer needed to look outwards in order to find a home they liked, we should be examining our people network to understand how we can build the relationships around us. Malcolm Forbes has said, "You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.” A leader reveals a lot about her character when she builds her network based not on how she can benefit from the relationship but how she can serve those in her network.