How often do you hear the phrase “I’m a connector”? So often, I’d wager, it rings rather hollow. What does it mean, exactly? And is it really how you’d like to be known? Connector smacks of altruism in a way “networker” lacks. The latter implies small-talk and glad-handing. The former calls up thoughts of business match-making. Like all things, some are skilled at it, and some are not. While the mediocre connectors match-make willy-nilly—“Do you know ___? You have to know ___. I’ll e-intro you.”—the truly good ones are more discerning, saving their resources for something truly special. I’d argue, the good ones aren’t connectors at all. They’re catalysts.
What’s the difference?
Connectors bring people together so those people may grow their respective networks.The meeting-of- another is the purpose and the benefit. All additional benefits are the result of the individuals who are meeting, and are independent of the connector. A professional acquaintance—let’s call her Diane—is a good example of a connector. Diane will “intro you” to others within her own network. An email exchange follows, a flurry of coffee meeting scheduling. Finally, you meet your intended. Except, you aren’t really sure why each of you are now sitting across the table from one another. It’s up to the two of you to suss out any collaborative potential.
Sure, such meetings may be rewarding, but the reward is hard won, the result of time-consuming mutual stumbling and exploration. Diane has done her job as a connector, but was the value worth the time and effort? In today’s attention economy, I find connectors decreasingly valuable. They broker in fast and loose network-sharing with little appreciation for the investment required to fully delve into a new introduction. And when you find yourself the resource freely brokered—the “connection” handed out to up the game and reputation of the connector—it’s difficult to detach.
Catalysts, on the other hand, set the stage. They hasten an outcome. They bring people together, yes, but with a large dose of premeditation. Connecting others is not a knee-jerk reaction, but a carefully construed exercise, replete with a limited number of possible, desired outcomes such as collaboration, business development, investments, or the realization of a shared goal.
My client, Chris, is a catalyst. When he brings people together, he creates a conducive environment, one in which both parties are fully prepped for the meeting, and have at least a cursory appreciation for the value the other brings to the interaction. Whereas Diane brings together two elements and considers her job done, Chris brings together two elements in a laboratory setting, of sorts. He controls the environment, expects results. He is invested in the outcome because he recognizes his value is tied to it.
Chris would admit to being a connector, years ago. But as his networks grew rich with sophisticated, time-strapped executives and leaders, he realized connections themselves were not valuable, and in fact, making connections communicated his lack of understanding of and appreciation for the realities of those he sought to connect. He wasn’t bringing value. In fact, he was creating a drain on resources. Fortunately, Chris realized this immediately, and talked to my firm about how to adjust his activities and leadership accordingly. Today, my most valuable meetings come from Chris and the one or two other catalysts in my life. They are infrequent, as anything truly valuable is, but always worth my time.