The phrase ‘good old boys’ has always signified an informal club where big decisions are made behind closed doors or on the golf course. This club has historically had the dark side of being exclusive and only male; no girls allowed. Yet, they did one thing right:
Men not only valued action on behalf of each other, it was expected.
A few weeks ago, I listened in on a conversation of men (who would never describe themselves as good old boys) talking about their lives, careers and work. In the span of about an hour of pre-dinner drinks, there was very high productivity without any real effort.
- Looking for a new job? “Let me connect you to a friend of mine over at …”
- Starting at a new technology company? “You know, you ought to talk to my friend in charge of…..”
- Need information on a new vacation spot? “I have a friend who goes there all of the time, she can give you suggestions on where to stay and go. I’ll connect you.”
Never once was there a tentative ‘would you be able to help me?” It’s understood in an active network or circle that, of course, you help each other. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
If you talk to a friend of mine for more than five minutes, he’ll eventually say something like:
- “A good buddy of mine….”
- “A good buddy of mine helped me ________.”
- “I don’t know anything about it, but a good buddy of mine does.”
And, at 50, he still has his college friends’ cell numbers and emails – along with friends he’s met over the years. He’s part of an active network based on ‘how can we help each other?’
What about the girl’s network? How are we doing? I don’t mean the formal networking or mentoring programs, but our business circles – our friends. I find that even some of the most accomplished women I know still need to be encouraged to ask for help. There is still an unspoken belief that asking for help is secretly a weakness, rather than a sign of strength. Are we our own best advocates?
Among women, there is still an unspoken belief that asking for help is weakness best kept a secret, rather than a sign of strength.
Of course, friends are there for each other and sometimes we just need someone to listen. Yet, so often, there are connections and opportunities to help each other that are never even seen or recognized – much less acted upon.
I was at a lunch recently where a friend we’ll call Kelly shared her career plans with us. Another friend we’ll call Mary listened and we all asked a few questions. Then, we moved on to the next topic. Yet, Mary was in a perfect position and industry to help Kelly with a few introductions. After the lunch, I asked Mary if she may be able to help Kelly and she responded, “Sure, she didn’t say anything. Do you think she wants any help?” When I encouraged Kelly to ask Mary for her ideas or introductions, her response was, ‘I could, but I hate to bother her.’ The opportunity to help was never recognized or acted upon.
The main difference in the good old boys network is that you probably never have to ask.
It is understood that you actively help and advocate for each other. When women start a new business, look for a new role, or step into something new and scary – as their network or circle, do we always think ‘how can we help?” and ‘what can I do?” And, then, more importantly, take action on it?
In my upcoming book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, I studied the habits and behaviors of those who have started changes, or waves, of all shapes and sizes. A common denominator is that Wave Makers™ quickly get to the question of ‘what can I do?” and then the hard part – they act upon it. It’s a habit of those with influence and impact.
Regardless of gender, here are signs that your circle, network, or tribe – whatever you call it – is active not passive:
- We feel comfortable asking others for help because we know it’s a sign of strength.
- We root for each other’s dreams, plans and possibilities on the field as part of the same team, not watching from the stands.
- We always go to ‘how can I help’ and then ‘what can I do?’
- We look for mutually relevant currencies. What do I have that can be helpful and valuable to you and you for me?
- We advocate for ourselves and for each other. We don’t compete with each other.
- We don’t have to be asked – we know what to do.
- We cheer each other’s successes.
Are you a contributor to your circle? Do you ask, ‘what can I do?’
I see many signs that the good old boys network of old is fading – faster in some industries and businesses than others. That’s good news. But, let’s remember one thing they did well.
Men help each other, without the need for an “ask.”
Today, regardless of gender, a vibrant, committed network isn’t passive. You are confident asking for help, but you also know they’ll be one step ahead of you. “A good friend of mine works for the company you are interested in, let me give him a call”, “I used to work with the person who heads up that charity, I’ll introduce you”, or “Why don’t we talk through your interview tonight? Come on over. You’ll be great.”
Make your network active. Put this topic on the next lunch agenda with your friends. And as you begin your career, take the best of the good old boys network… but please leave the rest behind.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Switch and Shift!
About the Author: Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life (May 2014). Previously, Johnson was a Senior Executive at Accenture where she played an essential role in creating new change service offerings, global talent programs, and providing expertise on complex changes with numerous clients. She has been featured as an expert in media such as, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, MONEY Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Working Mother and a regular contributor to SUCCESS Magazine. She is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.