Why Social Capital is Your Most Important Asset

My network map courtesy of http://socilab.com

My network map courtesy of http://socilab.com

Whether you’ve thought about it or not, social capital is the most important asset you have in business and in life.

Social capital represents the collective resources available through your personal and professional networks, and the individuals you are indirectly connected to through your relationships. If you’ve built tactical networks, you’ll be able to attain the key resources you need when and where you need them – like acquiring leads, discovering strategic business opportunities, generating fresh ideas, securing VC funding, finding a new job, or boosting your influence in your industry.

Equally valuable, is the impact social capital has on our personal well-being. As stated by Author, Wayne Baker, in his book Achieving Success through Social Capital, “Research also shows a direct link between social capital and the quality, purpose, and meaning of life. Good networks improve happiness, health, and even longevity. Building networks improves our personal lives as it contributes to the world by making it a more connected place.” You probably know the feeling of meeting someone who’s been where you are before. It’s like you were magnetically drawn to each other. The emotional support this type of connection, and shared experience, can offer is magical.

In today’s world, deliberately building social capital is a long-term opportunity cost we all need to carefully evaluate for ourselves. It can be hard to imagine how we’ll find time to get out from behind the screen and our day-to-day routine. However, we have to look at the time as a valuable investment for ourselves and companies. With a more diverse and externally focused network, you’ll be better prepared to move up into a leadership role within your organization. By being “in the know,” you’ll also be more equipped to cope with today’s always changing business environment.

We can’t do it alone – there’s no “I” in success. If you’re like me, you’re independent and determined find success in everything you do. With an individualistic mindset, it’s easy to take all the credit for our accomplishments, but we can’t forget about the people who helped us get to where we are today. Think about your parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, coaches and mentors who have made a significant impact on you and the path along your journey. Now, think of these influencers as a stamp on your career passport book – they are all linked to your success. The more you expand your network, the bigger your passport will be, and the further you’ll travel throughout your career.

We can’t predict the future. Being known as a network builder is just as important to your organization’s competitive advantage today, as it is to the evolution of your career journey. What happens if your company downsizes? Or your company isn’t in the 10% of start-ups that succeed? Although you might not realize the value of a connection you make networking today, it can pay long-term dividends when you need to find a new job or are looking for an investment. When you spend time building a diverse network across industries, you’re creating a safety net for your future.

We all need human-to-human interaction. Ever seen the movie Her? In the fictional film, the main character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, develops a relationship with his computer’s Intelligent Operating System, personified by the voice of Scarlett Johansonn, which ironically parallels the present barrier electronic devices can create between life-enhancing “human moments.” While digital communication is convenient, the trust and foundation of lasting relationships that grows from face-to-face interactions can’t be substituted.

So, where do we go from here? Building social capital starts with leading with generosity. If you volunteer, you probably understand this principle, as you’ve experienced getting more back than what you’ve put in. Giving without the expectation of getting something in return is the foundation of social capital. Generosity fosters your trust and credibility. Keeping score just feels disingenuous when you’re building relationships. By giving without expectations, you’ll initiate the serendipitous flow of resources that will eventually make their way back to you, in some shape or form.

If you’re looking to evaluate your social capital, check out Hallowell’s Inventory of a Connected Life. Use these questions as a guide in your efforts to diversify your network and nurture existing relationships.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MICHELLE RAYBURNMichelle Rayburn_Headshot

After graduating the University of Cincinnati in 2010, I gathered my things and left my Ohio roots to realize my Boston dream. As a transplant, I learned life in a new city can be a little challenging to navigate from a civic, social, and professional perspective. However, I have a passion for building – and participating in – inclusive communities that empower and encourage women to aspire to achieve greatness. In my day job, I work for a membership organization and help companies utilize their people to strategically engage in the Boston business community. In my free time, I’m committed to developing student leaders in the Eta Theta chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Harvard, serving as their coach, mentor, and Chapter Council Adviser. Today, I hope to make it easier for you to get connected to Boston, network, and navigate the City through my Women’s iLab column: The Aspiring Woman’s Guide to Networking in Boston.

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