The saying “burning bridges” comes from ancient Roman Times. Generals invading new territories would order their soldiers to burn the bridges behind them. This way they wouldn’t retreat. It is similar to the point of no return in military speak, or PONR. In career and social relations, it means not to piss off people who can damage your reputation. You want a network that says good things about your skills, integrity, and reputation.
That is precious.
Often we don’t get a chance to repair the damage done to any of these, particularly reputation. The consequences can take on a life of their own on social media. You have no chance of stopping them once they are set loose in your network. It’s kind of like the wind-driven wildfires in the deserts of California.
Your career includes your experiences, network, and skills. In that order. Your background builds over time and becomes your story. I have worked in over a half dozen companies in my career. For each, I have my story. I had different experiences at each place I worked. I provided an experience for my staff, co-workers, and clients. In return, I received new experiences.
My story grew, I own it, and it’s mine to tell.
I remember adding to my LinkedIn profile how much PNC paid for Albridge Solutions back in 2008. I had left the company. I received threatening phone calls. I hadn’t signed anything that said I couldn’t disclose the price. I was proud of it. I told the attorney it was my story and kept it there.
There is a flip side though that you only have limited control over. What others think of you, your experiences, network, and skills are important. That’s why you want to maintain a degree of consistency in your behavior.
Who you run with is super important as well. I have been fortunate to work with a great bunch of executives over the decades. Some of us continue to work together, others are at other companies, but we all talk and share our stories.
It’s how we learn.
Sharing stories is one of the key components of network value. There is value in the gross number of people in your network. At 10k connections, your posts and updates will start to gain attention. At 15k connections, your network will start to grow with little effort. I connect to about 50 people a day. Most of these are people reaching out to me.
As your platform builds, you can be more selective. First, you must develop the core of your network. An active core has people you know and have done business with. These folks are key have influence on defining your reputation. They are also the people who will alert you to new opportunities. These are who you will reach out to discuss your opportunities and challenges. These connections are super powerful. When you tell them about an experience you had with a rogue employee, client or vendor their reputation just took a hit. Don’t get me wrong; people are fair, but the core of your network is where opinions develop. I estimate them to be in the top one-half of one percent of your network. It is here where you want to protect the bridges you worked so hard to build. I once knew a woman who I had spent a lot of time grooming for a senior executive role. She had a lot of pressure in her life and work. Her behavior became erratic. She argued with other employees and became disruptive to the business. We had a few confrontations, and I tried to help her. In the end, I had to remove her from contacting me via text and phone. She quit and burned a bridge with me and the core of my network. While I will never go out of my way to hurt her reputation, I will not go out of my way to enhance it either. Your network is a reflection of you, and the core of it is the heart of who you are.
Having a blend of hard and soft skills is key to improving your chances of success. I have some hard skills in sales, marketing, relationship management, and business management. The skill that has been most useful in my career is team building and talent management. Looking back, I curated some key people and took great care not to piss them off. So when I called with a problem or opportunity they picked up the phone. The bridge I had built remained intact. One executive I know joined me at my current gig, but not the one immediately after we had success together. The relationship is strong, the network intact, she is at the core of my network.
The golden rule of treating others how you like to be treated is a priceless bit of advice. The bridges you have built over a career combined with your skills and experiences are powerful. These are three key components that will lead you to a career filled with achievement and success.
My best, Chris