You Are Who You Know

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." – Jim Rohn

Take a minute to stop and think: who do you spend the most time with? Write down the top five people with whom you spend the most time on a day-to-day basis. Once you have your list, ask yourself: who are these people? Are they ambitious, successful, and happy?

Whatever business sector you swim in - government, industry, academia - the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” means the difference between swimming and sinking. Knowing the “right” people helped when more than 800,000 Federal workers were furloughed in October, for example, all government furloughed PMPs on a certain PM company’s mailing list were offered a free 40-PDU course called Project Turnaround while they were furloughed. This course helped them develop the skills to quickly leverage their sources of capital to create new opportunities. As you are reading this, you can most likely think of instances where being a part of the PMI Washington DC Chapter has helped you, or has enabled you to help someone else in your network.

In both hard times and good times, the quality of your life depends on the quality of your associations.  For one, your close network creates the foundation for osmotic learning (learning that happens through immersion and exposure). Secondly, social capital – the people you know and the connections you have with them – may be the most important resource that can help you achieve success in every aspect of life.

When people think of capital, they often think only of money. However, if you reflect on what helps you achieve your goals, you can see that it’s social capital. Each of us needs to be more aware of the forms of capital that are accessible to us besides monetary capital. Just like you need to manage your finances, you also need cultivate your social capital throughout your career.   

So, what can you do to tap into your social capital and improve your relationships with others, therefore improving your life?

The Power of the Mastermind. One powerful tool that has helped me immensely in my career has been participating in mastermind groups. The concept of mastermind is that you assemble a group of people to meet on a frequent basis for the sole purpose of helping each other achieve goals. A mastermind group is a different animal from groups that come together to work on a specific project or a therapy group. The express purpose of a mastermind group is to be a multi-layer, supportive environment for each individual to expand what is possible for them. Mastermind participants’ goals typically start out as individual goals until the members of the group start to gel. At this point, various members of the group will begin to pursue joint goals that emerge as they get to know each others’ talents and needs. Let’s look at how social capital works in a mastermind group.

Explore Untapped Sources of Capital with Masterminds. Mastermind groups are the perfect venue to explore all sources of capital. In addition to monetary capital, you also have social, brand, knowledge, and infrastructure capital:
  • Social capital is your relationships.
  • Brand capital is your reputation and credentials.
  • Knowledge capital is your skills, talents, strengths, and experiences.
  • Infrastructure capital is the assets that help you achieve your goals, such as equipment, transportation, and your website.
A mastermind group helps you recognize the potential in all of your sources of capital and put them to work for you. All you need is a place to meet, a facilitator or leader, a group of people willing to leave their egos and agendas at the door, a workable meeting format, and agreed-upon accountability. Here are some of the benefits you can expect when you join or start a mastermind group:

Top Ten Reasons to Join or Start a Mastermind Group

  1. Build your confidence. There is power in speaking your intentions or thoughts out loud to others. Sharing your own ideas and asking for help builds your confidence and propels you forward.
  2. Change the lens of your perspective. Sometimes our biggest “A-ha!”s come when we are looking at a challenge that a peer is facing. When we walk away from their issue, we see our own situation differently.
  3. Monitor progress in your business and personal life. Accountability is a key factor of success. When you have a group to which you are accountable, it increases your commitment to your goals.
  4. Get valuable feedback quickly. When you have a pressing issue, you can bring it to your group and get instant, honest feedback and advice.
  5. Tap into a living Rolodex. I’ve been amazed at the time I have saved when I need a resource and I share this resource need with the group. It’s better than Google because I’m getting qualified resources from people who have already “been there and done that.”
  6. Learn from the wisdom of others. An important aspect of a mastermind is that the group doesn’t just tell others what to do or give their opinions. Instead, they speak from what they have personally experienced.
  7. Share your goals. When you share your goals with the group, a number of things happen: 1) they understand where you want to go and are now a set of eyes and ears in the universe for you; 2) they hold you accountable to achieving your goals, and; 3) you transform a dream into a goal when you say it and plan it.
  8. Increase your self-awareness. Masterminds are an invaluable way to gain insight about yourself in group settings. What pushes your buttons? Do you talk too much? Do you need to listen more? What happens when you truly listen rather than wait to talk?
  9. Experience a sounding board that knows you and what you want to achieve. When you need career or business advice, there’s nothing like having a sounding board that knows your history and sees what you have been working on for the past few months (or years.)
  10. Enjoy the camaraderie of shared goals. With a mastermind, you’re not alone.  You have a whole group of cheerleaders and advisors whose only goal is to help you meet your goals.

Social Capital at Work. Think of your relationships as a numbers game. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar found that people can maintain about 100 to 230 stable social relationships – that is, they know who each person is and how they all interrelate. The rule of thumb is that we each maintain a social network of about 150 people. While it may seem like your network is larger than 150 people due to the advent of social media, the key behind social capital is in making meaningful connections. These type of connections can only happen through face-to-face time.

What is great about masterminds groups is that you can make meaningful connections with a relatively small group of people, but have access to the resources of each persons’ connections as well. Mastermind groups can grow to 10 to 12 people - an extended network of 1,500 to 1,800 people. Just by getting to know more about what each person is trying to achieve, people in mastermind groups open themselves up to a pool of 1,800 other people who could potentially help them achieve their goals.

The Rule of Reciprocity. According to Bob Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, reciprocity is a fundamental driver of human behavior. This means that if you do something for me, I am going to feel compelled to do something for you. The more you help others achieve their goals, the more others will help you achieve yours.

The Importance of Frequency and Duration. In Dean Hepworth’s work on social work practice, he finds that groups need to balance the time commitment required for the group meeting with what the members of the group can reasonably fit into their schedules. Twenty meetings would be onerous for most people, but making a year-long commitment to meet every three-to-four weeks for 90 to 120 minutes is typically optimal. Those meetings become even more productive and valuable when you toss in a trained facilitator leading activities to help each member develop greater skills for achieving his or her goals.

The "Umph" of Influence. When people see what is possible because someone else has achieved it, they become more aware of how their own perceptions or limitations are holding them back. When you get a group of people together for the sole purpose of expanding what is possible for them, you initiate a series of events that does exactly that. People influence each other on a continual basis. By getting a group together to expand what is possible, each member confronts and moves past his or her own perceptions and develops a new vision of possibility.

The Secret of Support.  Participants in mastermind groups meet in order to expand their opportunities and to help support others in the group to do the same. They can be self-organized or use a trained facilitator who is a functioning member of the group as well. In a supportive, helpful environment, people develop more confidence to tackle the goals they may have shied away from pursuing before.

Build Your Social Capital. In Influencer, Kerry Patterson introduces a tool called the Network Quotient (NQ). You can use your NQ to measure your social capital. Start with drawing your NQ by creating a mind map on a piece of paper: a circle in the middle represents you, and is surrounded by the names of everyone you know. The closer the person is to you and the more influence they have in your life, the bigger the circle is around their name. Below is an example of my NQ:


Work on growing your NQ as avidly as you would work on expanding your investment portfolio—it is that important!

You are who you know. Make sure that the people that you associate with are going after their goals as rigorously as you are. Like a fish swimming with the current, you too will achieve your goals – at Cheetah speed!

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

cMichelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast.  She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.  

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people.

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton.

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