At a recent networking event, a woman approached me and told me that she had heard of BNI and was interested in joining a chapter but explained that she was hesitant based on an experience she had recently when she attended a meeting of another local networking group. She had been very put off by the attitude and the comments of the meeting’s apparent leader. Being new to networking, the meeting was the first of its kind that this woman, an esthetician, had ever attended and she said that she had expected something very different.
She had been told the networking group she was going to meet with was filled with positive, welcoming people who would be as interested in learning to help her promote her business as she was in learning to help them promote theirs. What she found upon arrival, however, was that very few people took any interest in her at all because most were busy socializing in clusters reminiscent of high school cliques. Then, to start the meeting, the group’s leader stood up and announced that he was in a crabby mood and urged everyone to find their seats quickly. As soon as she sat down, a member of the group informed her that she needed to move because she was sitting in “his seat.” Needless to say, she got up and, instead of finding another seat, headed out the door.
I wish I could say this was the first time I’ve heard of an occurrence like this but, unfortunately, it’s not. When a networking group doesn’t have strong, positive leadership to set a good example and enforce structure, the group runs the risk of turning into nothing more than a coffee klatch. I encouraged the esthetician to seek out her local BNI chapter despite her bad experience with the other networking group and ensured that she would have a much better experience simply based on the difference in leadership. Groups follow the example of their leaders and in the situation of the networking group this woman visited, the leadership set a very bad example and the group members followed suit.
The fact holds true that whether you’re talking about networking, business or life, people will follow the example of those in leadership roles, which means it’s imperative for leaders to be wise, positive and solutions-focused. One of the most important aspects of a good networking group is the leadership team that runs the meeting. These individuals should be chosen based on their ability to size up any situation, point in the direction that’s best for the group and lead the group toward the most positive path–they recognize the importance of leadership and the domino effect that both bad and good leadership can have.
Leaders, in any aspect of life, set the tone for how other people following their example will act. I encourage every one of you reading this, whether you’re in a networking group or not, to remember that whether or not you’re in a recognized leadership role, people are always observing you. If the leaders in your life aren’t setting a good example, why not step up and act as a leader yourself? If one or two members of the “high school clique” networking group mentioned above had done this, other members of the group might’ve followed their lead and the esthetician might not have walked out with such a negative view of all of them.
If you have any stories about how you stepped up and became a leader when those in leadership positions were lacking, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment.