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Keith Ferrazzi: How To Not Be Social Climber [INTERVIEW]

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One of the biggest assets you can have in business is relationship building skills. No matter the industry you are in, those who are specifically good at networking always seem to have the head start compared to anyone without one. Meet Keith Ferrazzi, author of the two New York Times bestselling books Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back? Many key players across various industries cite Keith books as a must-read for anyone looking to attain a solid foundation for building relationships in your business and personal life.

Keith recently invited us over to his house for a private sit-down interview at his beautiful home in Los Angeles. In this exclusive info, Keith gives valuable advice including how to avoid being labeled as a “social-climber”, being authentic, and the best ways to network at a business event.\

I want to talk a little bit about your beginnings. You’ve obviously accomplished a lot in the corporate space, one being that you were at Deloitte Consulting for about eight years and in those eight years you’ve eventually built up to be chief marketing officer, which is an amazing accomplishment. I mean, I hear people talking about Deloitte all the time. How much credit would you give to that achievement based on your skills and your people’s skills and relationship-building and everything?

Well look, I’d like to say most perhaps, but at the end of the day there’s no way that a 30 year-old was deserving of the chief marketing officer of Global Deloitte so there’s no question that when Pat Loconto decided that I was acceptable for that job that so much of that had to do with his perception of me having a shared vision; me having his back; me being an individual that he knew my unadulterated energy and enthusiasm was going to deliver for his legacy. Now all relationships and networking and people skills boiled down, in my mind, to generosity – being of service to others. And I’ve busted my butt, not only for Deloitte, but for those people – for Greg Seal and Pat Loconto.

And frankly even earlier on, so many individuals at Deloitte who invested in me in such powerful ways – that frankly stopped me from being fired, which I deserved to be a number of times. I was a crappy young consultant, you know, an analyst in the guts of a project ping pong-ing his way to spreadsheets. It was not my deal! And people giving me permission to find my best position and self, which was significantly more elevated than the standard career track, only happens because people give a damn.

Well even though you were obviously well-liked within the company and everything, when you actually obtained that position were there any people who were bitter at all like you got there or anything?

I imagine among my peer group I probably didn’t make all the best friends. Now that wasn’t true. Anybody who knew me, knew me but those who didn’t really know me, looking from the outside, probably saw my rather brash and egotistical self-aggrandizing style – no question, I was a punk. And mostly it was bred from insecurity; not feeling like I deserved to be there, not just because of my age but my background. If you read the book, you know I was a pretty poor kid; went to Yale; went to Harvard. I often spent time in my life not feeling like I deserved to be there, right? That was true and as a result my overcompensating device was usually to puff myself up. That doesn’t ingratiate yourself to your peers. It doesn’t look bad from on top, but it’s not good from a peer group. So I would say that that was a little rough at times.

Nepotism gives you a shot, right? And so in that case, I created my own nepotism. Nepotism is about people who care about you and have a relationship with you, they give you a leg up. Well I got a leg up and then, I had to deliver. So people’s resentment was short-lived when I started delivering.

I actually did an interview with a serial entrepreneur before this, and one of the things he noted was it seems that the Gen-Y audience, they’re too focused on building relationships online and that face-to-face interaction seems like it’s starting to die down – it’s not really there anymore. Would you agree for that for the 20-somethings?

Well first of all, we spend a lot of time online. And I don’t know, you’re of a very different generation than I am but when I was growing up, lying on my bedroom floor with my landline, talking to a buddy or whoever I was talking to you, that was an intimate conversation; it didn’t have to be face-to-face. The fact that tools have evolved, that people are online chatting on a video chat, etcetera – that doesn’t make it less intimate. It really doesn’t. It depends upon where your emotions are going, what’s being shared and how much is being shared. That’s what really matters. So I disagree to some extent that just because you’re using virtual tools that that means you’re not relating.

The word ‘social climber’ always gets kind of thrown around and people label each other as such. Do you think that label is bad? And if it is, what can somebody do to not be labelled as that?

You know the word we used when I was climbing up was “brown noser”. Look, I would say a couple of things. First of all, if you take social climber at its construct, I certainly was. I mean I grew up poor — my pop was an unemployed steel worker, my mom was a cleaning lady – I started supporting myself at the age of 12. Have I climbed socially? Damn right, I have. And is there anything wrong with that? I mean, that’s the American dream.

Let’s talk about the people who deserve that title of brown noser or whatever. Those are the people who aren’t living an authentic life, building strong relationships, leading with generosity. And I think that’s the distinction: what’s in your intention? If all you care about is stepping on someone’s shoulders to get to somebody else and you don’t even care why you put off the mud in the process, then you deserve whatever society gives you. If, on the other hand, you’re authentically trying to build relationships to try to better yourself and you care about people and you’re not dropping people like a hot potato when you don’t need them, then I think those terms are unwarranted and usually aspects of jealousy.

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You also note that you shouldn’t look at a relationship as a transaction like, “I do this for you, you do this for me; I scratch your back, I scratch yours” which seems to be kind of like the culture…

That works. It’s called transaction. You pay for something; you get something back – that’s a transaction. But it’s not generating loyalty and it’s not sustainable. Living authentically is a lifestyle choice. It’s actually, to me – and I don’t mean to be too West Coast here – it’s a spiritual choice. The choice of looking inside yourself… Well the choice of building an authentic relationship only comes when you have enough groundedness in yourself that you’re able to have a conversation with somebody without looking over their shoulders to the next most important person, right? That’s a spiritual choice. That’s a choice of giving a damn about somebody, and usually that means you’re enough secured in yourself.

Living your life to build relationships authentically makes you a better person. And it’s not just better for the world but better for you. Your blood pressure goes down, your ulcers are fewer, and you breathe easier… I think that’s an important part of life. And that’s a daily struggle for me because I’m out there trying to kick ass, take names, change the world, make the biggest imprint in the planet that I can for being here and that sometimes leads me to spin around in my head; be less authentic; and buzz by somebody, thinking about where I’m going instead of thinking about who they are and who I am.

What would you say, using specific examples, are good social rewards to keep employees motivated?

Well it’s really simple: the work that we’re doing… we have a research institute at Ferrazzi Greenlight. So Ferrazzi Greenlight is both a consultancy and coaching company. We’re a research institute on human behavior change. We focus very much on what we call relational and collaborative sciences – relational and building outside relationship for sales; collaborative sciences teams; cutting through silos, productivity; getting things done; culture, etcetera. I would say that the leading predictor of high-performing teams is the question “Does your boss care about your success?” That embodies so much. If your boss cares about your success, it unleashes a lot of the observable high-performing characteristics that I write about in “Who’s Got Your Back?” High degrees of candor: if your boss cares about your success, you can take the risk and tell the truth. If your boss cares about your success, you’ll hold yourself and the people around you accountable because we’re not going to let that guy down; that gal down. If your boss cares about your success, you care about him and her, and you care about each other. And that kind of intimacy allows you to want to serve each other. That kind of generosity puts more into the process. So you know, “Does your boss care about your success?” is a big question.

I think that, especially for startups, having a culture is very important. And so I guess my question is, how do you find what your culture is and how do you start it or something?

Let me first of all read… Let me pivot a little bit and redefine that question of culture. Cultures don’t change – people do. And therefore the question of culture is ultimately a question of behavior change. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re leading a company the question you should ask is – and by the way, people don’t change easily; it’s not easy to change people/culture; therefore you can’t change it ubiquitously. You can’t change everybody. You have to ask yourself: what smallest group of individuals needs to change what narrowest set of behaviors in order to unleash value?

Right. That’s really interesting. So really just dealing with the people individually and then…

Changing the specific behaviors and practices to achieve your strategic outcomes.

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Obviously there are introverts but there’s people that want to go at conventions and try to meet people even if they don’t know anyone. What are your general tidbits…

Specific to a conference or…?

Yeah, specific to a conference. I mean, you know, we’re in LA and there’s always events going on and we might not know something…

Well actually you should go online, I actually wrote this in my first book. There’s a chapter called “Conference Commando”. But I’ve actually formulated 15 tips to go to a conference or go to on an event. I’ll summarize a couple of them.

One of them is the 7 P’s: “Prior Proper Planning Prevents Pissed, Poor Performance”. In other words, if you know you’re going to an event figure out what the hell you want to achieve there; figure out who you want to meet there; and think about it in advance. Then, do your outreach in advance. I go to these events all the time and I’m the keynote speaker, right? I come in the night before – maybe I’m there by dinner. Do you realize I’ve never once had someone reach out to me in the hotel – where obviously I’m staying, because it’s the hotel of the event – nobody’s reached out to me saying, “I just assumed you’d be here, would you like to come down for a drink?” It’s never happened, right?

By the way, even in my book I talk about make sure you get the speakers before they speak. I get up and I speak and at the end of my speech, I’d say to everybody in the room, “I’m just curious, how many of you would like to spend 10 minutes of time with me?” Hands shoot up, right, and I say “It’s too late! Because I’ve got a flight right after this, I’m going to sign books and which point you’re going to get – at best – 10 seconds. But do you realize that I’ve been standing in the back of the room for the last two hours, watching the conference? If any of you had any foresight and thought about this in advance, I would have been there.

So really, the forethought is what’s critical. If you’re shy and you go in a conference, get a wingman. You know, buddy system. It’s the same way when you go to Single’s Bar and you’re a little intimidated and embarrassed to walk up to somebody, you get a buddy system – somebody that says, “Hey let’s walk around together. Let’s both agree who we want to meet. Let’s help each other. Let’s figure this out, get to know the comfit’s organizers, they’ll tell you who people are – they might even give you some entrees on some of the VIP events… I mean, lots of stuff in “Conference Commando”.

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+Benny Luo has been an Internet Marketer since 2006. His expertise lies in social media marketing & strategy, search engine marketing and pay-per-click advertising. He has produced various red-carpet events in Los Angeles, and was the Social Media Strategist for the 2011 Billboard K-Pop Masters Concert. Benny is a former Yonex-sponsored Junior National Badminton Player.
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