PLN: Asking people to support you personally
Networking, not just for your organization, but for yourself, has two major benefits...
It helps you play at the top of your game.
It keeps you from being lonely at the top.
Let's take these in order. First, Cynthia....
It wasn't always like this, but now I'm getting what I need, and here's what my network gives me:
2 thought partners who brainstorm my plans with me every month.
3 mentors, one for fundraising, one for communications, and one to help me do even better networking.
5 fans who keep sending more more contacts to pursue for money.
1 coach who helps me through the hard parts.
1 cheerleader who gets me back on my feet whenever I'm feeling down.
Instead of being a lonely worker bee, I'm like a whole hive buzzing with energy. I'm a dozen times more effective without working crazy hours.
Putting a network around yourself is something you can do...
To develop your professional skills.
To increase your personal moxie.
To take on bigger challenges.
And to simply make leadership a whole lot more fun.
Next let's listen to Nell...
That thing about lonely at the top? That's me. I can't really talk to my staff about the behind-the-scenes stuff of leadership because I want to keep them inspired and trucking. I can't really talk to my Board because I need to keep them pumped up and asking for money. And I don't have anyone else to confide in or any time to confide if I did have someone.
How did we get it so backwards?
Whenever I talk with a leader who feels isolated, I ask them what they were hoping for when they first stepped into leadership and I usually hear something like this..
"I wanted to work with people. I wanted to have a team that I could inspire and challenge. A team that would inspire and challenge me back.
I love the exhilaration that happens when you're doing something really important and you're doing it together."
It's so wrong that so many of our leaders to end up feeling alone because that's the exact opposite of they want.
And that contradiction can become quite frustrating...
"I'm surrounded all day long by a sea of people asking for things, demanding things. How can I possibly feel lonely?"
Maybe that's the worst kind of loneliness. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
And if lots of leaders feel like this, then it's not an individual problem but a problem of our nonprofit culture. It's a problem of the default operating system of our sector.
This page is about using networking to change that default.
It's about gathering people around you...
Who get you,
Mentor you, and
Of course, networking is a lovely idea in and of itself, but where it typically breaks down is with the ask. Nonprofit leaders are typically great at giving and not so good at asking, especially not for themselves.
So maybe they latch onto a contact when it comes their way by chance, but they don't do planned, conscious, strategic, assertive networking.
And that's going to be the focus of this page. I'm going to offer an approach to asking that's not for everyone, but check it out and see if you like it. I could call it the "Secret to Successful Asking" like a self-help book might.
But it's not a secret. It's a basic human thing, not a mystery. Which makes me all that much more sad that so many leaders do without the support they deserve.
I want to be clear, though, even if you master everything on this page, that does not mean asking will always be easy. I find that if I'm asking for something that really matters to me from someone I really care about, my heart will still be in my throat. I'll still feel vulnerable.
But that vulnerability just makes the ask more real, and more delicious. And I like that I don't have to play it cool as if this ask is something casual, when in fact it's not.
Now, let's get to the "secret."
In the workshops I do on asking, I like to begin by inviting stories...
"Tell about a time when someone asked you for something that really mattered and you gave it to them—and you loved giving it."
Take a moment, if you like, and try this yourself right now. Think about two, three, four, or more times in your own life when giving to someone was a sincere pleasure for you. And it deepened your connection with them.
I'm remembering a story I heard a year ago:
Susi, who lived in San Jose, said her sister, Shari, back home in Memphis, had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to college two states away. Their parents were on a long business trip to Europe, so Shari planned to pack her stuff and take the train on her own.
A week before it was time to leave, Shari called in tears and asked Susi, "Can you come take me to college?"
Not an easy ask. Susi would have to get emergency time off from work, find a flight at the last minute, and fly half way across the country. Her answer? "Yes!"
I asked Susi, "What if Shari hadn't called you and you found out six months later that she had wanted to."
She said, "It would have broken my heart."
Stories like these from our own lives, show us that the key to approaching someone for support, is...
Asking into their need to make a difference.
Asking into their need to give.
That's the secret. Just that. Makes easy sense, doesn't it?
Compare it with a sacrificial ask, the kind I used to do, which went like this...
I assumed the other person didn't want to give,
that it would be a sacrifice for her,
so I would have to make her give against her will
and against her own well-being.
No wonder I hated sacrificial asking. It was a violation of everything I hold dear about relationships.
I've had many leaders tell me, "I'm no good at asking." But sacrificial asking is not a test of anything except sacrificial asking. When you get yourself into the soaring mindset, it's shocking how different asking feels.
More important than a yes
How do you make sure that your ask stays focused on the person's need to give? It's actually simple...
You detach from the yes.
Wait a minute, did I say simple? It would be simple except that we live in a marketing culture that demands a yes. Marketers do not give us permission to say no. It doesn't matter if we don't need what they're selling, they insist that we buy.
But I'm not recommending that you go Zen and detach from everything. Personally I'm very attached to...
Asking for a real decision.
When I'm at my best, when I'm in my asking zone, I don't care about the yes or no of it. I want the person I'm talking with to take the time to think about what works for her. And then I want her to simply tell me what's true for her. To make a real decision.
And what's that decision based on? It's based on...
Her need to make a difference.
So we've come full circle back to the heart of the matter which is also the heart of the relationship. A genuine match of needs. A partnership of needs.
Now when I ask, I just want to know...
Is there a match between what I need and what the other person wants to give?
And when I get the conversation set up such that I know my askee will not be feeling pressure to do anything she doesn't really want to do, then asking can be a pleasure for both of us.
Let's see what this is like in action. First we'll start with getting a no. A conscious, genuine, sweet no.
Alan is a friend of a friend who I've met several times before.
Rich: Hi, Alan!
Alan: Hey, how's it going? What's up?
Rich: I'm calling because I wanted to ask you for something special.
Alan: Something special?
Rich: Yes, but before we get to that, there's something else I want to say first. I don't like it when someone pressures me with an ask, and I don't like pressuring people when I ask. So could we make a deal that if what I'm asking doesn't work for you, you'll just tell me no? How would that be for you?
Alan: Wow, sounds mysterious.
Rich: Yeh, but let's take the mystery out of it. Do you know what I mean about pressure?
Alan: Oh, yes, I do. I feel pressure every time my cousin hits me up for the ballet. I have no interest in the ballet. None. But that doesn't stop her. It seems like every two months she's twisting my arm.
Rich: That's what I mean. I don't want to do that. I won't do that.
Alan: Cool. Okay. That feels good. Hit me with your ask.
Rich: I've seen your work. In fact, I've studied it. I find it inspiring that someone who is a professional marketer can be so very authentic in the ads he creates. What I see again and again, is that you have a knack for making a genuine connection with people in your ads and your PR work.
I want to learn how to do that so I can do it for my organization. I know you could make a very big difference for me if you would teach me even a little bit of what you know.
Alan: Thanks. You know, I don't get compliments from my colleagues. They think I'm weird.
Rich: Well, I like your kind of weird. It's exactly what I want to learn.
Alan: That feels really good to hear, and I'd really love to do this. This kind of thing is right up my alley. But you know what? I just got the biggest contract of my career and I'm so jammed that I'm cutting things out of my life not adding them in. There's no way I could do something like this for the next six months.
And it's a shame. George has told me what you guys are doing with CAP and I'm impressed. I like your spirit. I'll certainly be sending you good wishes. But I've got to tell you no on the mentoring thing. Now are you sorry you gave me permission to do that?
Rich: Not at all. Because what I want is a real decision, and that's what you've given me. I came to you to talk about authentic marketing, so I wanted us to have an authentic conversation.
Alan: Oh. Okay. Now I guess I really get it.
Rich: Here's the deal. It matters to me that you're rooting for us. It really does. I consider that a gift. And knowing what I know now, I don't want you to say yes. And I'll keep studying your work and keep learning that way. You can count on that....
Now let's see what it's like to get a conscious, genuine, sweet yes.
Beth comes from money and sometimes travels in social circles where people have serious wealth and lots of VIP connections.
Rich: Hi, Beth.
Beth: Hi, Rich.
Rich: Thanks for getting together this morning. I really appreciate it.
Beth: No problem.
Rich: What I want to talk with you about is supporting me in the leadership work I do. But before we get to that, there's something else I really need to say first. You know how in fundraising, people often put pressure on you when they ask for a donation?
Beth: Oh, God, yes. I've done that myself. It always makes me feel so uncomfortable.
Rich: Same here. And this morning I really don't want to do that with you. I'd like to tell you what I'm asking for, and when we've talked it through, would you take a minute and really think if this is a match for you or not?
And then would you simply tell me what's true for you? Because our friendship matters to me way more than what I'm going to ask you for.
Beth: You know what? This feels really good. No one has ever said anything like this to me before. I'm ready. So go ahead and tell me what this is about. Suddenly I'm very curious.
Rich: Well, you know how much I love CAP, but I feel like I'm failing at doing major donor fundraising. There's something I don't get about asking VIPs for money. I have nice conversations with them, but I never get the check.
I know you're familiar with VIPs and their world, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to teach me how to talk with them. Teach me the language, the expectations, how things are done. And then maybe coach me whenever I run into situations I can't figure out.
I'd like to propose three one-hour meetings to begin with, and then perhaps I could give you a call when I've got specific questions. We could set a time limit on each call at a maximum of 15 minutes, and of course we'd schedule them at your convenience.
Why I'm asking you is because you're always genuine with people. You always speak to people with such presence and warmth, and I'd like to learn from you how to be that way with people I find intimidating.
Now please take a moment and think about if this works for you or not.
Beth: No way! I don't have to think about it at all. My answer is yes! I feel so honored for you to ask. I admire what you do. I really want you to succeed. And it would feel great to give you something that I can easily give and would have fun giving. I have such mixed feelings about the moneyed world I come from, but I do know it inside and out.
And in fact, if you want this, I'd be glad to introduce you to some people I know and go with you on some asks. Then we could debrief after. That might be lots better than a more theoretical conversation.
Rich: That would be great! That would just be the best. Thank you!
Beth: Okay, now I'm happy. I'm tired of writing checks and feeling anonymous. This will be much more fun for me...
Please keep in mind that these are not scripts to follow. When you ask, you'll use your own words and your own personality. No copycatting. You'll speak from your own heart, not mine or anybody else's.
What I'm giving you here are principles. You'll put them into practice in your own way. Which is why asking is an art not a chore.
What do you need?
Sometimes when I talk about building a support team, a leader asks me, "Oh, do you mean like an advisory committee?"
And no, I don't mean that at all. Especially if we're talking about the conventional advisory committee where you have to bring them coffee and donuts and where they pop off with quick opinions about big new things you should be doing, and then next month when they come back they expect you to have done all those things, even though there's no money for them.
I'm not talking about people who you have to keep happy. I'm talking about...
People who make you happy.
To that end, I'm going to focus on developing your own "Personal Leadership Network."
I realize this is not a flashy name and "PLN" is not a catchy acronym. Maybe I should hire a marketing consultant to help me come up with something spiffy, but actually I like the plain vanilla name because it's an exact description of what I'm talking about...
It's for you.
It's about supporting your leadership.
It takes whatever form you need. It's fluid and flexible. There are infinite possibilities.
There are other names for it, too. Some people call it their "success team" or their "personal think tank." Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his "kitchen cabinet." Andrew Carnegie and Napoleon Hill used the term "mastermind group." Some people use their personal name, like: "Jennifer's Team" or "Team Judy."
What about "Personal Board of Directors"? In the nonprofit world that can be a loaded term, so I often recommend against using it. But if it works for you, that's what counts and by all means go for it.
And some people don't call their PLN anything at all. They just do it.
So I don't want you to get hung up on the name. It's just a shorthand that I use to talk about the constellation of support that you gather around yourself.
Let me emphasize again, this is for you. There are lots of people in this world who love supporting leaders...
Marina is an ED I admired from the first time I met her. She took over an organization that was at death's door—people in the community were writing the obituary. She not only bought it back to life, it's now very effective and very well loved.
Here's the thing, though. I didn't really care about the issue her nonprofit works on. It's a perfectly good issue and I'm glad somebody's working on it. It's just that it's not a top priority for me.
But I happily joined Marina's support network. I was there for her, not for the issue.
And there's more. Marina didn't ask me for support. I asked her if I could be part of her PLN. It was something I wanted to do. It met my need to make a difference and to connect with someone I cared about. There wasn't one drop of sacrifice involved.
The people who are drawn to support you might also be big fans of your organization. But say you move to a new job at a different nonprofit. A lot of your PLN might well come with you, because first and foremost they are there to support your leadership.
Now let's break down the ways in which you might structure support.
Core personal support
Let's say what you need most right now is someone to talk to who really wants to listen and is able to listen deeply. Someone who will be with you on your journey of leadership. A witness who sees what it takes and who you have to be and what it takes for you to lead. Someone to hear the behind-the-scenes story that you can't tell anywhere in public.
Here are some examples:
For some leaders having just one person they can trust who they can to talk to makes the most amazing difference. It can break the spell of sacrifice and set them on the road to soaring.
And if you were that confidant wouldn't it feel wonderful to make this kind difference for a leader you admire?
A partnership that's personal as well as professional
When Kate and I started up our nonprofit, Child Assault Prevention, we made a commitment to each other from the beginning that our friendship was our priority, that we would not let this work we were doing come between us. And we stayed true to that commitment for the ten years we worked together.
When we got knocked down, when we went through hard times, and there were plenty of those, we hwent through them together.
And when we had our victories, it was so sweet to enjoy them together.
It was our partnership that made us exponentially more powerful than if either of us had tried to go it alone. We both believe it was the primary key to our success.
I know that I would never have made it through even the first year without Kate. For me, our partnership was not an option. It was a necessity.
Coaches, consultants, and therapists
What about someone you pay to talk to? Can they be part of a PLN? Yes. A PLN does not have to be all volunteer.
But I just want to add this caveat. It matters that this is a person who genuinely cares about you and gets you. If this is someone who's not just in it for the money, if you can feel it in your bones that they're your advocate, then definitely count them in as part of your PLN.
When Kate and I were running CAP, most of our staff were dedicated and great, but in the first 10 years over 250 people worked there (including hourly workshop leaders) and out of all those people, there were of course some hires that went wrong.
It was these personnel issues that gave us our worst nightmares and was the most painful part of leading.
Jean who was a friend of Kate's and the head of HR for a law firm said, "I don't have money to give you, but I do know personnel issues inside and out. You can call me anytime day or night when you have a problem. I love what you do and this is one way I can support you."
And we did call her. Her advice always worked. And then there were times when she'd said, "This situation has crossed the line, now it's time to call your lawyer."
But she gave us more than just excellent professional consultation. She was there for us on a personal level. She understood the crazy hours we were working and that CAP was our baby and how much we were hurting when we had to do difficult corrective actions or even a firing. She was in our world with us.
And she loved being there with us. There wasn't one bit of sacrifice in her gift.
Scenario #2 above where I asked Beth for help with fundraising is an example of asking for mentoring. Notice that it was both personal and professional. I had some personal stuff to get through in order to do a better job professionally.
Now let's take a look at a harder ask for mentoring that involves a more intense negotiation:
Curt is a very successful entrepreneur who Rich has never met.
Rich: I really appreciate you taking my call and making the time for this meeting. It means a lot to me to have this chance to talk with you.
Curt: Okay. Remind me what this is about.
Rich: I'm one of the founders of Child Assault Prevention. We go into the schools classroom by classroom and teach kids how to get away from kidnappers and molesters, and what to do if they're being abused at home. Our programs have been very successful. But we have much bigger ambitions.
We want to reach every child in California from preschool through 12th grade, and we want to reach them five times in their school career.
Curt: Okay. And yes, that does sound ambitious.
Rich: I'm here today to ask you for a special kind of help. But before I do, there's something I need to know. This is a significant ask that I'm going to make, and it matters to me that if for any reason it's not a match for you, you'll tell me no. I really don't like pressure asks, because...
Curt: You can stop right there. I have never in my life had a problem with saying no. I often take my time to study a situation, but when I decide, I decide, and I'm not apologetic about it. So not to worry, I can tell you no, and I probably will. But thanks for checking that out.
Rich: So here's the deal. I've read everything about you that I can get my hands on. I've gone to the library and read articles about you from the very beginning of your career onward.
Rich: I'm coming to you because I admire your strategic thinking. What I've seen in every business that you've built is that you have a very creative sense of vision. I might even call it playful. You seem to take delight in doing the impossible. You do breakthrough thinking. And then the company you build rockets to profitability.
We think we're only going to have one chance for our California Campaign to work. We've got to get it right the first time. We've had really good results so far using our own intuition and smarts. Our progress has been solid. But this next step is something different.
We're clearly out of our league. We want to ask you to do strategy workouts with us. We're thinking we would have an initial series of five one-hour meetings and that you might have homework for us to do between sessions—information to gather, people to interview, ideas to test. And then once we launch our campaign, we'd like to be able to call you as needed for follow up advice about adjusting the plan as we go.
What do you think?
Curt: Well, I've done a lot of mentoring in my time. It's something I really enjoy.
Rich: Yes, I read about that.
Curt: And I like your problem. It interests me. I like ambition. And I like how you've stated this deal you're proposing. Now are you ready for the but?
Curt: I'm a tough mentor. I don't mess around. If I'm mentoring someone and they don't follow through I fire them. I don't have the time for excuses and goofing off. Does that worry you?
Rich: No, it doesn't. I like that and here's why. Kate and I love this work. We love this organization. And we are so serious about getting to all the kids in the state. So we're not looking for wimpy mentoring. We need the real thing. The best. And that's why I'm coming to you.
Curt: Okay, then here are some more things I require. When I'm in, I'm in all the way. Developing this campaign might take more than five hours. Can you handle more?
Rich: Easily. Kate and I are hard workers. We're used to it. We thrive on it.
Curt: And I'm running a business here, so my mentoring hours may be evenings and weekends. How's that?
Rich: That works for us.
Curt: And sometimes I may have to cancel at the last minute. Is that a problem?
Rich: Not at all. I get that.
Curt: And I'll ask both of you to read three books. All the way through as soon as possible. They are written by the strategists who have shaped my thinking. If you know those books, I won't have to waste my time giving you a lot of background before we get to work.
Rich: If you recommend them we want to read them. I'll go buy a set for me and a set for Kate today.
Curt: And then I need straight talk from you. If you ever feel overwhelmed or you think what I'm teaching you sounds crazy, tell me. Tell me right there in the moment. I don't like to be surprised later on. I don't like wimpy. And to tell the truth I worry about you social service types on that score.
Rich: In my case, you're right to worry. I do have a history of stepping around straight talk and being indirect. But I will make you a promise that I will tell the truth in the moment. And you can always count on Kate. She's known for being direct.
Curt: Okay, I'm in, except there's one more thing I need to do. My wife and I have a deal that we don't take on anything new without consulting each other. That's how we make sure we protect our time together. So I'll talk with her tonight and let you know first thing in the morning. Make sure my secretary has your number and get the book list from her on your way out.
Rich: Thank you. I've already learned something important about negotiating just in how you've handled this conversation. When I get back to the office, I'm going to walk Kate through it line by line.
Curt: Okay. If we go ahead with this, be prepared in our first meeting to tell me what you learned. Now I'm on to my next meeting.
Rich: Thanks again, whatever your decision turns out to be.
In this example, I asked big. Five hours plus follow up is a lot for a super busy VIP. One thing I've learned over the years is that it can be a mistake to ask too small when someone is used to doing big things. To ask Curt for three quick tips might have gotten a negative reaction. Curt might have felt that a quick pit-stop ask is not worth his time.
It's always a judgment call, and it matters how the particular person sees himself, but consider that sometimes the bigger ask is what honors the person.
I'd definitely recommend making the ask specific and clear. I've had people ask me, "Could we hang out and talk and maybe kick some ideas around." I don't react well to that. When someone is asking me for mentoring what I want to know is...
What do you want and why me?
A note about auditioning
What if you don't know the person very well and you think you might want them in your PLN, but you're not sure? Then how do you approach them?
You can ask them for one thing one time so you can check them out.
You know you could be ten times better as a public speaker with a little coaching. There's a guy in town who's the chapter president of the National Speakers Association and you've heard a couple people say he's a powerhouse on stage. But you have no idea how it would be to work with him personally.
So over the phone you arrange for one meeting where he'll give you some coaching, but you say nothing about your PLN or wanting him in it.
If it doesn't go well, if all he talks about is gimmicks and manipulating the audience and he's kind of a jerk, you're done. You say thank you and goodbye and you're out of there. Case closed.
If you love talking with him and he's giving you great advice, then you could say,
"Thank you so much for this meeting. I've loved every minute of it. The advice you're giving me is exactly what I need. I love your honest, authentic approach to speaking. It's the perfect match for the spirit of my nonprofit.
"I want to ask you if you'd be willing to have three more meetings and after that take calls from me for quick questions. But before I ask, I want to be very, very clear that if you can't do it, please tell me no. Only say yes if this is something you'd enjoy and it would be meaningful to you. And then I'd love for you to say yes."
Here's some more information about auditioning by doing Discovery Interviews.
The possibilities are legion. Here are a few ideas.
Ongoing mutual support
I know a group of six EDs who meet once a month for three hours and take turns presenting challenges. Then together they brainstorm solutions along with giving personal support. They love it.
I know of another group of three that meets by phone because they're in different parts of the country. They are dedicated to each other.
But here's a quick caution. I also know of ED groups that quickly devolved into nothing more than gripe sessions, so they dragged everyone's spirits lower, and before long people drifted away.
If you want to start a group, you might want to try an upfront contract something along these lines:
"Hi, Dolores. I'm starting up an ED support group, and I'd would love to have you be part of it. I like how you look at social change work, I like your spirit, and whenever I've asked you for advice you've given me the most imaginative takes on things, and it's always been very helpful.
"Here's what I want to propose. I want us to have a strengths-based group. I don't want it to be the typical gripe session thing. We would start each meeting with a check in where each person celebrates a triumph no matter how small. Or talks about how they have seen their talents and strengths show up.
"Then we'd take turns talking about challenges, but again the idea will be to bottom line the problem so we can spend the majority of the time brainstorming solutions.
"I want to make sure that every time we meet, we come out feeling stronger than when we came in..."
Short-term group for a specific purpose
Say your nonprofit needs a much stronger media presence and you're the one who's going to have to take the lead on this. You have the years of experience with your issue as well as the personality to be the face of your organization in public.
Besides, you have a personal interest in developing your media skills not only for immediate purposes, but so you can be good with the media for the rest of your career.
So you decide to ask three people to give you media coaching. The first is a talk show host who's a friend of a friend. The second is a retired person who used to coach actors on stage presence. The third is a development director at a non-competing nonprofit who is a genius at getting access to the media.
You ask them to meet with you three times: One to prepare you, another time after your first media appearance to give you feedback, and one final time after your second appearance. Then they're done.
Ongoing group that's focused on you
You gather people who have different talents and skills, but the main thing is that they are people who will be able to support your development and progress over the long-term. Here's an example:
Dana is an acquaintance of Rich's. They know a lot of people in common.
Rich: Hi, Dana. Thanks for having lunch with me.
Dana: I've been looking forward to it all morning.
Rich: I wanted to meet with you because I want to ask you to support me in the work I'm doing at CAP, but the one thing that's most important to me is that if what I ask for doesn't work for you, you'll tell me no. You don't have to explain or give me any reasons. But will you just tell me what's true for you?
Dana: Yes, I can make that deal. And it feels so good to be able to say that. Six years ago I couldn't have promised you that, because I was such a rescuer. But since having my two boys, I've learned to set boundaries. Have I ever! And I'm surprised at how good I am at it.
Rich: I love hearing that.
Dana: So break the suspense. Tell me your request.
Rich: Okay. I took this workshop series last month called Thriving and as part of it we spent a day designing what's called a Personal Leadership Network. It's not an advisory board for the organization. It's a team of people who support you in your leadership.
Dana: Sure, in my company we call that a Success Team. I get it. And you want one?
Rich: Yes, I do. It took me a while to decide, because it's kind of a gutsy thing to ask for. But yes, I'm very sure I want one and I very much want you to be part of it. Both Mary and Melinda have told me that when it comes to group dynamics and interpersonal politics, you're the master. Mary said it's your "superpower."
And every time I've seen you at an event, I get the sense that you're taking in everything that's going on. Mary said when you were in college together, you could walk into a room of 20-30 people and within half an hour you'd have a complete analysis of the interactions going on.
Dana: Oh, God, that's true. I can't help myself.
Rich: And Melinda says that's the talent you use at work. They hired you to be a deal maker.
Rich: I want to learn from you. I really want to learn how to size up group dynamics and what to do once I've sized them up. We're building a statewide network of CAP projects and we need to do better working with so many people with such different personalities. We're also working with the state legislature which is awash with interpersonal politics that sometimes mystify us. And we can't afford to be mystified.
I want to invite you to be part of a group that will meet once a month for lunch for two hours. We'll meet for six months.
Dana: What would we do?
Rich: First, we'll all do a check in. Next I'll tell you two or three of the most critical challenges we're facing at CAP. Then everyone will jump in and brainstorm solutions together. Does this feel like an outrageous request?
Dana: Not at all. I'm feeling all thin and stretched at work. I love a lot of what I do, and I make very good money so I'm not going to quit because I'm a single mom. But I really miss my college days when I was an activist. I want to do something that makes a different kind of difference than business deals.
So what I need to hear next is who's going to be in this group. I also have to admit I've gotten very tired of meetings lately.
Rich: Okay, well my plan for this is that when we get together, we rock and roll. Nothing like a typical meeting. If it's not fun, let's not do it.
Dana: Cool, so who will be there?
Rich: Three people have said yes: Irina, who's a high-energy communications specialist. Devon, who used to be chief of staff for a county supervisor. And Gabriella who has years of experience developing programs.
Dana: Okay, I know Irina, and I've heard about Devon, so this is sounding very good.
Rich: Then there's you. And I'm also inviting Katrina who's an actress.
Dana: An actress?!
Rich: Yes, I love her energy and her warmth. She lights up any group she's with.
Dana: You've got a deal. This sounds perfect. Just come to lunch and play?
Rich: That's it exactly. Come be yourself. That's what I want. Just that...
Mix and match
PLNs can be a mix and match of different elements tailored exactly to what you need...
One ED might have a total of seven people in his PLN and they're all one-on-one relationships.
Another ED might have a core group of four who meet once a month in person and three other people she talks to by phone as needed.
Another ED might have two short-term teams right now, but plans in six months to set up a monthly in-person team.
Another ED might only have one confidant, but just having that one person to talk to breaks the spell of loneliness and makes all the difference in the world.
Something quite special
Here's another possibility:
Five elders in Alma's community invited her to start meeting with them on a regular basis. These were leaders she had always looked to for guidance. But now they were inviting her into their group.
As she told me about this her voice was soft and reverential. "They are passing on their wisdom. They are telling me things I've never heard them say before. But what matters to me even more is how much they believe in me and how much they care about me."
Notice that Alma did not ask in a direct way to be included by her elders. But her respect for them and love for them, as well as the work she was doing in the community, showed them that she was the kind of person they would want to bring into their circle.
The power of your presence can speak volumes to others about who you are. And blessings can come from that alone.
Getting conscious about what you've already got
I want to add a word about gratitude. I've worked with leaders who, once they understand the PLN idea, tell me, "I already have support from several people, but I haven't really told them just how big a difference they make to me and my leadership. I'm going to call them up this afternoon and tell them I consider them part of my Success Team. And I'm going to make sure they know how much they matter to me."
You can imagine how great it would feel to get such a call and how it might deepen your commitment to that leader.
Specific steps for an ask
If you'd find it helpful to have a list of eleven steps for asking someone to support you, you can click here.
Where to click next?
You might want to try Asking kindred spirits for money. It's a companion piece to this page. You'll see the key themes repeated there, though in a slightly different way. I'm someone who needs to hear things more than once and from different angles in order to learn them, so I had no problem writing two separate pages about asking into the need to make a difference.
This work is based first and foremost on the work of Jim Camp. I've got more about him on my Acknowledgments page.
© 2008 Rich Snowdon