What’s the mindset change most people need when it comes to networking?
If you ask Shep Gordon, the celebrity manager behind the likes of Alice Cooper, Emeril, Blondie, and many others, he says it’s not to think of it as networking at all. After all, for many of us, networking conjures an awkward image—like a bunch of professionals making small talk with drinks in their hands, trying to figure out how they can best sell themselves.
This isn’t an effective way to network. Gordon (of Supermensch fame) says the best way to approach connection-building is by taking a service-driven approach to people.
What being of service to others looks like
Service-mindedness is how Gordon built a remarkable life with his connection-making skills, all of which started when he met Alice Cooper in 1968 and eventually became one of his managers. From this one relationship, doors began to open—but it’s always been his unique approach to connection-making that’s made him a magnet for celebrities, artists, and culinary experts alike. That approach focuses on being of service to others.
So what does that look like? Gordon explained that it starts with looking at your daily interactions through a different lens. Most people approach networking from the wrong angle. Rather than going into conversations thinking, “What’s in this for me?” he recommends that you should think: “How can I make this person’s day better?”
The secret to being seen as a “connector,” he says, is all about serving others and taking a Johnny Appleseed mentality to people where you reap what you sow.
The service-based mindset in action
In day-to-day life, Gordon finds that the service-based mindset manifests itself in different ways, but all actions center on being a servant.
For example, if a friend’s career evolves, he links them up with relevant connections to help them find a new path. If he hears someone is sick, he sends over chicken soup. “It’s not a negotiation on the phone that someone’s going to remember. But sending chicken soup gets remembered,” he said.
The simplicity of this approach to networking officially clicked for Gordon one night when he was out to dinner with one of his mentors, famed French chef and restaurateur Roger Vergé. While the food they were eating wasn’t very good, Vergé cleaned both his plate and Gordon’s.
When Gordon asked him what he liked so much about the food, Vergé explained that he didn’t like it at all—but that he knew the chef was watching them eat from the kitchen window and desperately wanted his celebrity guests to enjoy the meals he’d prepared for them.
Vergé told Gordon: “I can eat a little bad food, but I can’t ruin his day.” This moment crystallized a few simple ideas when it came to Gordon’s approach to people: Kindness and empathy are simple to execute, actions are essential, and you always have to consider who you’re interacting with and how what you do impacts them.
Service leads to opportunity & reciprocity
The service-based mindset has paid off for Gordon in various ways, including getting him a foot in the door with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
When Gordon heard he would be visiting nearby in Hawaii, he offered to organize the preparation of all food during his visit (while asking for nothing in return.) Even though Gordon was told he’d never get a chance to meet Dalai Lama, that first morning, he was invited to serve him breakfast personally. Today, their relationship has developed into a deep friendship, and Gordon now serves on the Board for the Tibet Fund.
So what is the major takeaway for those who want to be seen as connectors and/or expert networkers? Gordon says the first step is to remember it’s not about you. The bottom line is, relationships get stronger through empathy, service, and creating reciprocity where everybody wins.
Here’s the thing. Good networkers don’t see themselves as networkers at all—they just want to help people.
Kaleigh Moore is a writer and consultant for companies in the SaaS industry.