Episode 81: Kingsley Aikins on Networking and its Role in Mitigating Risks

The International Risk Podcast is a weekly podcast for senior executives, board members and risk advisors. In these podcasts, we speak with risk management specialists from around the world. Our host is Dominic Bowen, originally from Australia, is one of Europe’s leading international risk specialists. Having spent the last 20 years successfully establishing large and complex operations in the world’s highest risk areas and conflict zones, Dominic now joins you to speak with exciting guests from around the world to discuss risk.

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This episode’s guest is Kingsley Aikins, discussing with Dominic Bowen the importance of newtorking and its role in professional development, but also its importance as a tool for risk management.

Kingsley Aikins is the CEO of The Networking Institute, and has lived in six countries and worked in the areas of Trade Promotion, Philanthropy, and Diaspora Engagement. He is a regular public speaker, and mentor to many people about developing valuable networking skills.

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TInternational Risk Podcast interview transcript with Kingsley Aikins

Welcome to the International podcast. My name is Dominic Bowen, and I’m the host. Today we’re joined by Kingsley Aikens. He’s the CEO of the networking Institute. He’s lived in six countries, and worked in areas of trade promotion, philanthropy, and diasporic engagement. He’s a regular public speaker and mentor to many people that developing valuable networking skills. Kingsley, I know you’ve just returned from a trip to Zambia, and I appreciate you taking the time to join us on the international risk podcast today.


Thanks, Dominic, delighted to be with you.


Well, there’s so many opportunities and risks when it comes to networking, and not networking. And you know that networking is not just the glue that makes everything happen. But it’s actually essential to survive and thrive, especially in challenging times that we’re going through now. Why is networking even more important than ever, Kingsley?


Well, you know, I think you can’t go it alone in life, quite frankly, you know, we have a leafing pedal, in a way, this method myth of individualism, that life is about the rugged individual taking on the world and winning, it’s the Marlboro Man is the Lone Ranger. It’s the Wonder Woman, you know, all alone because of their guts and determination. Now, life is about connecting, collaborating, and communicating opportunities don’t float around on clouds that are attached to people. So if you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person. So that’s one reason network is important. And I’m particularly interested in networking, because all the research shows that people who have strong and diverse networks live longer, are stronger mentally and physically earn more money and are happier, kind of like, kind of like all of those, Dominic. And then there’s another one, which I think is very current, which is that I think lack networking is the antidote to one of the great crises of our times that doesn’t get talked about perhaps as much as the black swan events that are out there. And that crisis is the crisis of loneliness. In our western world. You know, we’ve, it’s been exacerbated by COVID. What’s happened in COVID, is that we’ve hunkered down with friends and family and just a few connections. And we’ve sort of fallen away from meeting strangers we our opportunity often lies at the outer ring of our network, not the inner ring, because the inner ring is what people we know. So well. Not only do we know them, we know what they think they feel we know who they know, it’s this whole concept of what the Greek word is called homophily. The tendency we all have to spend time with people just like us. And when when you think about a Dominic, you know, we’re grown into we grew up in families of people like us, we go to school and college and people like us, we play sport called holidays with people like us, we marry people like us, and you know what, we produce more people like us. But that’s not what the world out there is the world that there is intensely diverse. So here’s the challenge, you know, does your network reflect the diversity of the economy you operate in the society you live in? And for most people, the answer is no. And that leads to underperformance as individuals and as companies, so sorry, a long winded answer to a short question. Dominic


Yeah, that’s very interesting point, Kingsley, you raise about the inner circle and the outer circle. And I think we’re all becoming more aware, thanks to you know, more education on social media about our views become reinforced. And social media is a fantastic example of that. But as you said, we marry we date, we hang out with people that are so similar to us. And if we really want to be expanding our networks, expanding our knowledge, expanding opportunities, we really need to be reaching out to the outer edges of our networks. I think that’s a really great point. But you’re on the international risk podcast, we’re having a conversation and during the international risk podcast, we unpack a variety of risk related topics including enterprise risk management, crisis management, resilience, governance, strategic forecasting. Now you and I agree that networking done well is a huge opportunity, and a network missed is a risk to both individuals but also to companies. And so seeing we agree on that. Why don’t schools and universities teach networking? And why don’t companies have networking strategies? Or include networking in people’s key performance indicators?


Well, you know, is the goal does question your weight on schools and colleges teach networking, when you go to university, etc? And the answer to that is that schools and colleges progress in those institutions is a function of a grade a score a metric, it’s something that you can measure, and I can understand why that’s important. So it’s all about the heart. Schools and Colleges are about the what, sometimes, how, but they’re not about the who. So you do you live your life under that set of rules, and then you come out into the real world. And there’s a whole set of unwritten rules, which really, really matter. The problem is, a lot of the things that really count to progress in a unit in a job can’t be counted. And what I’m talking about here is attitude, determination, grit, empathy, humour, you know, all those sorts of soft skills that aren’t taught. And yet, suddenly, they become hugely important. I’m a fan of a guy called Harvey Coleman, who’s an American writer, and he talked about career progress. And he had a thing called the PI theory, pi. P stands for performance. And he said something which is really outrageous, he said, How well you do your job contributes 10%, to your career progress, which to me sounds daft. Surely doing a great job is like 80, or 90%. He said, No, he said, doing a great job is the minimum. It’s what’s expected of you, it gets you on the pitch. He said, It gets you on the ladder, it doesn’t get you up the ladder career progress is about going up the ladder, he said, You get paid on performance, you get promoted on what other people think of your potential. Now he’s introducing those two pesky little words, other people, suddenly, subjectivity is coming into play into when it comes to your career progress. So the AI and the E are the important bits of the pie theory. And it stands for your image. He says that’s 30% of your career progress. What do people think of you? What are you known for? What’s your reputation, you know, what your reputation is what somebody says, when you’re not in the room, that becomes really important. And then the 60% for his career progress is actually a which is exposure, who’s seen you in action, who’s seen your deliver, who’s seen your speak, who seen you in meetings, you know, who seen you, you know, interact with other people. Because, you know, Carla Harris is is wonderful African American leader of Morgan Stanley, 35 years in Wall Street, she’s got a wonderful TED Talk and YouTube videos. And she’s taken this whole theory and she said something really important, she says, You got to remember, every girl, remember that every single point about you your promotion. The next project you take on your compensation will be taken by a group of people sitting around a table in a room, and you won’t be in that room. So if you’re not known, and I always say you have to become known, not famous, you don’t have to become a Kardashian with your if you’re not known. If nobody knows who you are, what you do what you’re contributing, then you’re going to get overlooked. So this turns on its head, the piece of parental advice i And I suspect many others got leaving college, which is work hard, keep your head down, keep out of trouble, and let your work speak for itself. But here’s the problem. Work doesn’t speak. Other people speak. So now, you know, that’s one of the reasons why networking is critically important. You have to think about your own personal brand, you got to think about becoming known. You got to think about becoming known for something you know, when your name was mentioned, are the three adjectives that go along with it. What does it conjure up in somebody’s mind? All those things are important, but they’re the kind of unwritten rules that you don’t learn in school or college.


It’s a great activity, isn’t it? And there’s some really good self-evaluation testing that you can do to sort of understand your own self-awareness and your perception, but you know, taking those 30 seconds or a minute, or maybe even longer to actually think about when I’m not in the room, how would my boss describe me to someone else? Or how would one of my colleagues describe me when talking to a client or someone else about me? What sort of words would they use? And I think that’s so important. And you’re right, many of us have learned, often painfully over the years, that successful careers are not only influenced by meeting or exceeding performance indicators, and it is that careful balance of the three elements that you just mentioned, performance, the image and your exposure. And the reality simply that the quality of the results and the work you produce each day is not enough to advance your career. And I think we’ve all anyone who’s been working for more than a few years has probably experienced that on a couple of occasions. So what is your advice to people who are At the beginning of their career, or perhaps all of us that could do with a bit of a self audit of where we’re at what would be your advice to people when when wanting to consider their performance, image and exposure, what they can do today?


Well, I think it’s important that they accept that in their life, there are two types of network, they have an organic network. And they, which just happens to this functional School, College family, you kind of inherited, you know, you don’t network at that stage in your life. But as you progress through life, you actually have to have a network, which is thoughtful, intentional, and strategic. I think a lot of people miss an inflection point, a lot of realise that the network they had for the first half, good enough for the network they need for the second of their life. And so I think it’s important to realise that I think you said the very beginning of network is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, it’s not a kind of a nice to have, it’s an absolute, must have. And I always took the ATM approach to networking, which is, you know, if you go to an ATM and keep taking money out sooner or later, there’s a flashing sign that says insufficient funds, unless you put something back in. So I believe that network is actually not at all about what you want job or pay or whatever. It’s about what can you give to other people? And if you see networking and that sense, how can I add value? How can I help other people on an individual basis, guess what, it kind of comes back from the network, and I saw my network has been like building up airlines, you know, the build them up, build up, and then every so often come in really, really, really, really sort of handy. I took the IKEA approach to network, you know, the more time you spend building and constructing a network, the more sort of sense of ownership and belonging, and I think your network has to be a bit like an orchestra, you know, you need to have strings and use a wind and you need to have percussion, you know, you need all those different elements, which are quite diverse. And when they come together in an orchestra, they can make something really beautiful, but on their own, they all sound a little bit that’s a bit zany. And I’m at a stage now as you can see, Dominic, I got a lot of help from people growing up and working in these different countries where I didn’t know anybody. And I want to pay some of that back. So I’m a believer that it’s important to send the elevator back down, you know, help other people on their way up. I mean, I’ll give you an example. When I moved to Australia, I was posted to Australia for job when I arrived there, I didn’t know a single person. But my mum mums are great had a friend whose kid was in Sydney and I call this guy and said, Can we meet for coffee? I met him I said, Can you introduce me to the local Irish business network? He said, it doesn’t exist, there isn’t one. So I said, let’s set one up. And I didn’t know anybody. But he got 13 people and we had a we had a dinner one night, and we actually called it the Lansdowne Road Club because we both were rugby players. And that’s where Ireland plays, frankly. And then in a spirit of sporting ecumenism, we dropped the road because we had non rugby people wanting to be involved. The Lansdowne club has become the largest Irish business network in any city in the world is 5000 people. It’s the biggest St. Patrick’s tech lunch in the world, but it started nothing. So I’m a fan of this concept that nobody started a large organisation everything starts at zero or less. And, you know, when you think about in a garage in Cupertino in California, 25 year old, 21 year old son of a Syrian migrant, Steve Jobs, put together some bits and pieces of a computer and sold with Steve Wozniak, the first computers now the largest company in the world. And round the corner you two guys in the shed, one called Hewlett the other called Packard, and across the way the guy called Disney in the backyard. And with this cartoon, so many things in life stock, absolutely nothing. In fact, I’ll give you a funny one, when I worked for the Ireland funds, which is a kind of a philanthropic foundation for Ireland. And we had a terrific guy whose idea was to set up this organisation name was Tony O’Reilly, CEO of the HJ Heinz food company in the United States and a believer that there was such a thing as an Irish Empire not built by military vital force of arms, we haven’t want to lay them on the military, but instead of just over 1000 years, but but the fact that you know, so many people went all around the world and created these organisations and created and created something special. So he said, let’s, let’s model this. Let’s set up an organisation. And let’s model it on the UJA the United Jewish Appeal what the Jewish community in the United States did to support Israel. Could we do something similar and we had a big conflict in Ireland as you know over something during that time, and so we had a dinner in the Waldorf Astoria. And it was the it was the first ever dinner of the Ireland funds and it was so unsuccessful. The only reason we the second dinner a year later was to pay for the first dinner we had. And that’s, that’s $500 million ago. So what started at nothing. And it was quite funny. Tony is a funny guy. He said, I had come up with this great slogan that for the organisation piece culture charity, they said we’re going to change it because we’re modelled on the UJA the United Jewish Appeal. We’re going to change our slogan to look at Irish dress British think Yiddish. If you could get those three things working in a row, you might just be onto something. And of course, of course he was right. And so it all came down to building that workflow. oblique.


There are some fantastic examples in there. Kinsley. So, you know, thank you very much for reminding us all about that. Hopefully that brought a smile to a few people’s face while listening to that. Can you explain? I mean, this all sounds this all sounds good. And I’m sure that anyone listening to this conversation today, Kingsley would have a real difficult time disagreeing with anything you’ve said. So, but what’s the process? Is there a five step process to networking or a three step process? Or how do we do it?


Well, I think the first question you got to ask you certainly, you mentioned the word there, but 10 minutes ago, I think we have to, we have to audit our network with three questions in mind. The first question is, is my network good enough for where I want to be post COVID In the next few years? And the second question is, you know, what do I need to do now to get myself ready? And the third question is, I have a network that is the right one. And the only way you can answer that question is actually to do an exercise that we can all do on a wet Tuesday afternoon, is to print off our network, whatever system you have, and look at it and you’ll discover a few things. First of all, you can tidy up clean up your network, everybody’s got redundant entries, we call them I have a takeaway in Boston, I don’t need that or dry cleaners in Sydney, I don’t need that. So you can we sometimes say prune your network and watch it grow. So it’s a good exercise to do. Secondly, you realise you’ve got some serious gaps in your network, you know, nobody in aircraft leasing or tourism or, you know, me insurance, or whatever it is, so you can work to fill those gaps. And then the third thing you discover is, I had some terrific connections in the past. And you know what, I’ve just let them slip or lifestyle in the way I went this way, they went that way, I didn’t have a route or dispute or anything, we just lost touch. In fact, what I did under COVID Is every week, I connected with a redundant or with the dormant entry, dormant connections, I call them. And I connect with over 80 people in different countries around the world and fantastic reconnection and conversations. So we’ve all got them in the those dormant connections that we’ve let slip. So it’s a good exercise to do that. We sometimes say, you know, you’re mining, you’re mining for coal, which are network and you’re mining for diamonds, you know, yeah, exactly, you want to have a volume of weak connections, and you want to have some very special connections. And then, you know, you need to do something with with your, with your network, you need to actually segment it, and divided into different categories, because it’s no use having a an amorphous mass of 1000 or 3000 names or whatever, you need to actually categorise them, and I put them into form, it’s like a pyramid for categories at the bottom is, is, is a connection. And the connection is just, you know, somebody named us on your, on your database, and for the life, you can’t remember who they want to who they’re who they are. So it’s very, very, very, very weak, you know, but moving up, then you have a category where you know them, they know you, there’s an element of familiarity, if you call them they know who you are, you’re not doing anything, but that’s much better. And then moving up again of the pyramid, you have a relationship, you know, each other, you like each other, and you trust each other. And we live in a world as you know, Dominic, where trust is at an all time low, you know, the Edelman Global Trust survey comes out every year and shows that trust in you know, business, nonprofit media, you know, is as low and governments as lowest level ever. So having trust, you know, trust is not an event, you don’t meet somebody and trust them tomorrow. I mean, trust is something that you earn over a long period of time, it’s, you know, it’s not deserved, it’s earned. So so that becomes important, that’s a good category. And then at the very top of my pyramid, I call it a friend. I’ve people in my network who have, I have friends who are friends and the people I work with who are friends. But I don’t have many in that category, because my definition of that category is somebody you could call on their cell phone on a Sunday afternoon. And you wouldn’t do that to many people. In fact, they’re the sort of people you turn to be a bit of a bit of a personal crisis. So I think when you put a bit of shape on your network like that, you know, this contact connection relationship. And friend, I think then, then it shows you where you need to take some action. And you need to engage in a process of cultivation of bringing people on a journey of ignorance of view and what you stand for and who you are, to position a passionate zealotry that takes time and takes energy. And then you need to be not afraid to ask I mean, I think one thing that was powerful thing we think that we all have in life is asking and yet we all shy away so much from asking, and being bold in your asking the worst thing that can ever happen to you. Somebody might say no, but but nothing have most people think about themselves, you know, they’re not thinking about you. So you need to, you know, make sure you have that ask. And then that kind of final phase of the of the networking process is what I call stewardship. It’s after somebody is committed to you, after you’re doing business with somebody, how do you make that the start of a long term, interactive, mutually beneficial kind of relationship. And so I’ve given you a sort of a cook’s tour and very quickly but but there is some process there.


Yeah, there’s some really valuable tips in there. So thanks very much for outlining then identifying what What is the right network that you need today? What’s the networking need in the future? And in doing that, what I can already sort of picture, putting the names into four categories on an Excel spreadsheet, identify where there’s gaps and colour, coding them, and then starting to address them, as you said, What do I need? I need to build some some contacts in this country or in this industry and then reaching out and doing it? Years ago, I was working for a very successful organisation that had operations around the world and during crisis, and during a problem, this organisation never had any issues, raising funds. But when things were going well, you know, you still have your standard operating costs. And so we had a meeting with a very successful fundraiser, and asked him, you know, what were his tips, you know, how do you successfully do fundraising? He just sat there folded his arms and goes, you ask? Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. We’re asking you, yes. No, no, you just ask everyone. I’m like, yeah. What do you ask for? What do you ask for? You know, we were great operations. We could run operations anywhere, anywhere in the world, we’re running successful operations. But what do you ask Who do you ask? You just ask people for funds, you ask them: Are you willing to contribute to this? Are you willing to fund this project? Are you willing to sit? And it was just it was so painfully obvious, it was embarrassing. We sort of sat there and got a bit red in the face. Is it as simple as that? It’s like, ask, it was our opening. Simple word.


I tell you, Dominique, I mean, I because I that’s what I did for many years, 15 years in Boston, and I was the fundraiser for the Ireland funds. And I remember, through this research phase, I discovered one of the most famous names in the film industry actually had ancestrally, some Irish connection that had a home in in Ireland and spent a couple of months in the summer a big sailor, I don’t sail but I, I knew people who sailed and I got a chance to meet this guy and have a cup of coffee with him and his wife. And he turned out to be an absolute delightful man legend in the industry. And then one day, I arranged to meet him for breakfast, I asked him and his wife for $5 million as a contribution. And you know, that’s a big number. And but that meeting was two and a half years after the first cup of coffee in County Cork, was my 29th meeting with them. That was the first time I asked him for money. So I never stopped asking in all that period, asked him to join our board, I asked him to host events in his, in his studio, I asked him to introduce me to other people in Hollywood asked him to come and visit projects that he was always asking. And I got to know him and his family and his dogs and his executive got all that stuff. But I never asked him for money. But he knew one day, the train was going to stop at his station. I mean, he knew he was never going to pick up the phone and saying, I want to give you a few million bucks, it’s never gonna happen. So he knew. And when I set up the meeting, that I have the solicitation, precise meeting, he anticipated a new something that’s going to happen, but he still wasn’t going to suggest anything. And back to your friend, your gave you that a piece of advice. I actually came up with a particular sentence, I would say Mary and John or whatever, let’s forget the names, I’d like you to consider. That’s a nice, soft for a gift of 1 million a year for five years. And then there’s a wonderful cliche in the asking business, which goes as follows the next person to speak loses the sale. Because it’s very, it’s very tense and taught. And it’s quite theatrical. And it’s a combination of two and a half years work. And every sinew of my body wanted to say ask her if you can’t do this year, next year be grand, and I would have destroyed this whole thing. So it was so important to to be quiet. And so there was this awkward, difficult pregnant pause. And and then finally, the wife said, Yeah, well, you know, you know, we did do 10 million for another project, and, you know, maybe maybe something we should look at. And that was, you know, the opportunity then to basically say, Look, you need, you have to think about you have to talk to your family, you have to talk to your accountants and lawyers, etc. I’m going to be back in two weeks, I’d love to catch up and meet with you again. In that particular case, I didn’t go back his office called our office and and he made a commitment, but it wasn’t five days, it was 3.2 million rows, still a very significant contribution. But it actually followed that process, you know, the research cultivation, the solicitation asking, and then the follow up the stewardship afterwards.


A very interesting story, Kingsley, thanks for sharing that. Now, the last two years have really been dominated by COVID. And obviously more recently by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, massive levels of inflation. And so it’s been quite a volatile and a complex environment we’ve all been living and working in. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned over the last couple of years about networking?


Yeah, so I mean, my business went to zero over night. I mean, I lost 50,000 bucks and bookings, like literally in 48 hours, because I was doing workshops and going into corporates and training and that also died to death. And so I did the only thing I could do, which is to migrate online to actually develop, you know, start filming stuff and put out stuff and I embrace particularly LinkedIn. And before I didn’t have any real connections there, and I began to do, I began to do zooms and what we’re doing today and webinars, I started slowly, I began to learn a little bit. I’ve ended up I’ve done over 120 webinars, I’ve done them all over the world. In fact, if you’re out there, the left I mean, my mates call me a baby Zoomer. Because I’ve done so many of these effects. One rather nasty friend of mine calls me Zimmer’s Zoomer, which I think is really, really pushing it. But here’s what’s interesting, I’ve actually developed an entirely new global tribe of people, I did a webinar for Airbnb in Korea a few weeks ago, you know, I was in my pyjamas sitting at home here. Normally, I’d have to fly to this place. So so it’s actually been a little bit of a positive in that sense. And I think that, you know, now that we’re going back to more regular ways of connecting, I will have my online tribe, and I’m going to have, you know, this, my existing kind of clientele who are now coming back and, and there’s a real sign of people wanting to be out and about, and there’s a hunger and a thirst to spend time with people. I’ve got young kids of my own, some of whom are in Europe, they’re in Amsterdam, and Berlin. But they’re working for companies they’ve never met sitting on the end of the bed. And, you know, I’ve never met anybody in the company. And I really, I really think that’s awful. And I think there’s a price being paid by a younger generation, because they’re not learning on the job. They’re not experienced, experiencing what I think is a huge part of networking, which is funnels of serendipity, random chance, luck, which you know, an impact on our lives. And yet, that doesn’t happen laying in bed or sitting at your desk or being at home all the time. It happens when you’re out and about when you’re doing stuff, when you put your talents on display, when you talk to strangers, when you seek out on like minded people, you know, when you do random things, I mean, all of that stuff helps. And I think planning gets you to the tip of the iceberg. But luck and serendipity. And chance gives you the bit underwater, which is of course, the major part. So I think that we are storing up a bit of a problem there, which we’re going to have to work on. It’s going to be interesting when we go back now, you know, are we going to go back to two and three, four in one days, etc, I think it’s going to be a big push towards for the weeks, I think that could be something that could be could be embraced. But I’d hate to see us I don’t think we will see as being completely working remotely, I actually refuse to use the word remote working because I think it sounds sad and lonely. I think it should be. I think it should be digitally working. I didn’t use the word, social distancing. Because again, for the same reasons, I use the word physical distancing. So I think that, you know, things will be different in the future, we’re not going to go back to the way things were, I think there will be, we’re going to go on to some other new way and iteration which will bear which will accept a certain amount of working from home, etc. But I think there’ll be a huge desire to be connect with colleagues reconnect with customers reconnect with people.


Yeah, they’re definitely, definitely use already. And we can certainly see that. And I know a lot of the big management consulting companies and their forecasting was predicting a slow return to travel. But as someone who’s travelling internationally every week, I’m yet to get on an empty plane. Travellers certainly returned in full force in full force. And I think people’s desires, as you said, to have that connection to shake their hand, or hug or at least sit opposite the person you having a business meeting with, or some sort of engagement is just, it’s just so valuable. And I loved. I love that word serendipity. It’s not use enough. It’s such a beautiful word. Can you talk about we’ve had a few guests on the international risk podcast that we’ve really spent the whole episode just talking about listening, and about the value of communication but but from your perspective, Kingsley and you know, when we’re considering the opportunities and the risks around networking, there’s the power of listening and the role of serendipity, you know?


Well, I think I just am a huge fan. And I wasn’t a very good listener early in my life. I was always interrupting and trying to walk people to talk people. You know, when I worked in America, number one American sent to me, Hey, said, I learned from you he said, Never give an MC a mic. And because we just are so fond of the son of our own voice. But I think listening is the number one skill in networking. And I think we live in a world where frankly, most people don’t listen. Most people are narcissistic listeners. So if I say to Dominic, I’m thinking of buying a car, and you say, You know what? I bought one last week. The guy wanted 20,000 I got it for 10,000. You know, it’s it’s a super, he’s got a great radio. It’s lovely. It’s read. I don’t give a stuff about you and your car and Dominic, but you have taken my topic and you’ve hijacked it and turned it into your topic. We do that all the time. You know, one of the interesting things As we often make the mistake of equating networking and sociability, we often think that the most sociable person is the best networker because they kind of get gregarious are the life and soul of the party, etc. And here’s what’s what I find groups really find intriguing. Introverts can be better at networking than extroverts. And why is that? Because they do it with decency and authenticity and integrity, they ask questions and they listen. Whereas the extrovert is trying to wow you with something personal, is constantly interrupting you is seeing everything from their point of view is looking over your shoulder to find somewhere, somebody more interesting to talk to. But being a listener, asking questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why, and how, using senses that end in a question, Mark, is such a powerful thing. I mean, the great person who wrote about networking was actually long ago, Dale Carnegie, he wrote a book How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s sold 50 million copies. I mean, around some very simple folksy kind of concepts. He said, The sweetest sound that anybody ever heard was the sound of their own name. He said the smile on your face means more than the clothes on your back. He said to be interesting, be interested. And then the killer line? He said, a really good question. But it’s a really good comment. So I think that that’s again, one of those skills we need to teach people is to be good listeners, and ask interesting questions and to be curious.


And Kingsley, some of the ways that I personally really like to learn is to role model to look at great leaders to look at people that have gone before me and been really successful, and even those that have gone before me and maybe failed, and try and learn from some of their lessons as well. What are some of the great attributes and who you think you mentioned some fantastic names before gates, you were Paca, Disney? Who was some of the people you look to and you’ve learned from over the years, when it comes to networking?


Well, I’m a founding member of an organisation called case and case stands for copy and steal everything. In other words, I just think that there’s nothing kind of new under the sun. And so we are the average of the people we hang around with is one of those classic lines. And so I think that being a good observer, and figuring out I mean, I was in Zambia this weekend talking to the Zambian diaspora, but all they wanted to learn about was what is Ireland done in this space, and all I wanted to do share so that they could copy what we’ve done. And by the way, we copied what Scotland did and what the Israel has done. So I think that, you know, that’s a powerful sort of thing to do. And when I looked at people who, when I look at the characteristics of people who are good at networking, I realise they’ve got certain things in common nearly irrespective because I worked in different countries, irrespective of candidate culture, they work hard. They’re humble, they don’t brag, they don’t keep score. They don’t say, Hey, I did you a favour six weeks ago, you kind of only one, they actually think like farmers to plant the seed waters and nurtures and is completely confident that there’s going to be a harvest later in the year. And they understand that there’s more smart people outside their organisation than inside their organisation. They know that the the way to people they don’t know through people, they do know all that kind of stuff. So I’ve been lucky enough in the positions I’ve had to work with certain people. I certainly thought Bill Clinton was one of the great communicators I ever came across. I was lucky enough to go to dinner one night with Nelson Mandela. And when we’re doing work in South Africa, what a joyous occasion that was. But I also think there’s people up and down the street, you know, where I live, who are terrific at this, and there are people who are in positions of influence and affluence who are dreadful at it. So I wouldn’t make you know, I don’t think it’s about knowing famous people and I think it’s just about you know, treating people with certain degree of decency and reciprocity and just being good at asking questions and listening.


Yes, I remember early in my career getting told the saying be careful of the feet you step on today, because they may belong to the Ask you have to kiss tomorrow. And I think the point the point you raised about you know, there is some fantastic and very influential and very powerful people that we may need to and want to connect with. And so to their neighbour, neighbour to may have some fantastic networks that you know, we can benefit or we can benefit from and as you said before, it’s it really goes in in both directions and it really will come back and pay I think, I think you we talked a little bit earlier about image as part of P ai and AR But when it comes to personal branding, what are the opportunities and risks that we need to consider when we’re looking at our own personal brand?


Yeah, and I have to say I’ve always felt pretty uncomfortable with the title of personal branding to me it does smack of you know, regarding use a tin of beans or so One thing and you know, I do cringe a little bit, but I also I get it, I kind of understand your everybody has a personal brand, whether you like it or not, in fact, not having a personal brand is having a personal brand, which I think is kind of fascinating. And your personal brand is not what you say it is, you know as what other people say it is. So I think you do have to figure out what’s true and authentic about yourself, and then find ways of amplifying that and letting people know. So you know, you can’t just, you know, hide your light under a bushel and then expect people to know, this. I think Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, she call it the Tierra effect is this notion of people that you know, I’m just going to work hard and do a super job and I will automatically soar. Well, that doesn’t happen. And when these people see other people who they who they think are inferior to them, getting progress beyond them, they get really kind of disappointed and upset. So so it is important that you know that people think about that personal brand dimension. And, and invest time and energy, there was a great guy called Tom Peters, you’re too young to remember Dominic, but he was a management consultant back in the 90s. He wrote, he wrote a he wrote a number of books, but he had one particular famous article called knee ache. And he said, You know what, you have to look at yourself as chairman, Managing Director, CEO of a company called me Inc. And you have to invest in yourself. And if you don’t invest in yourself, nobody else will invest in yourself, you have to take responsibility for your own career trajectory, you have to take responsibility for figuring out how to improve what to do how to work. And and I felt, I’ve always been a big fan of that. And now is we live in a world where you know, it’s up to 30% in some countries are now in the gig economy. And the you know, the price, we paid for great disruption and turbulence under COVID. But also have to say great opportunity, but is that you know, the old days of joining a company, and we’re living out your life and working for the company are gone, my dad joined left school at 14 joined the company left at age 77. Just a quick 63 years in one company. And in those days companies outlive people, but now people outlive companies, the average length of a somebody in a in a C suite position is seven years, the average length of a company is like 20 years. So that’s all changed. Now. It’s great degree of disruption. Imagine if I’d said to Dominic, maybe about 11 years ago, I’m in my Uber on my iPhone booking an Airbnb in Dublin, the only word you would have understood that sentence will be the word Dublin because those things didn’t exist. But here’s the question, What things 10 years from now will be common parallels, but don’t exist now. So, you know, I had heard heard the head of Mercedes Benz saying the other day change is happening now faster than ever before? And never will it be a slow again. And it was it was interesting, one of those great American Management consult Peter Drucker, who said to create the future, you have to be the enemy of today are the British answered. Anthropologists know Charles Darwin. He said, It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, it’s not even the most intelligent is the those most able to handle change. So I think that, that that ability to handle change, the resilience to handle change, to handle the sort of turbulence is going to be a huge, huge attribute that people are going to have to just build into their skill set now going forward.


Yeah, that’s such fantastic, such fantastic advice. And I think it would certainly be valuable for everyone to go back and consider some of Charles Darwin’s work and some of his his work on successful evolution, because it really is true. And you look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs. And there’s some some great books and great podcasts and you know, some great speeches given by entrepreneurs, if you look at the way, whether it’s the founders of Airbnb or Lululemon or TaskRabbit. And they’ve been so far, so flexible, so adaptive, to look at the environment and build networks to ask for support. And it’s really led to their success and their company’s success. Yeah, yeah, Kingsley. This is the International West podcast. So I’m keen to hear from you about what risks are you monitoring and most concerned about at the moment?


I think the biggest risk certainly when it comes to this topic of networking, is not a network. And when I think that, you know, because it’s, it tends to be a bit overlooked in the institutional side of things, but corporately it’s overlooked. And at the academic sort of side, I think that’s a huge risk in your life, if you don’t realise to use your expression at the top of the hour. That to build a strong and diverse network is essential for your career progress and just for your life and for you Our personal life as well, I think that would be that would be that sort of lesson, I would love listeners to take away from that, you know, this is something that’s important, but not urgent. And we live our lives doing things that are urgent. And so it’s easy to put this networking is quite easy to do, but it’s quite easy not to do. And that’s the worry. And it’s a bit like dieting and all those other things, you know, easy, easy, easy to do, but quite easy to find reasons not to do it. So I would say that, you know, you’ve got to move this front and centre of your personal business lives and just see things through the prism of networks and networking. And this whole idea of the skills that you need the listening skills, the luck and chance making happen for you, all those things, you have to sort of factor them in and be and have some process around it. You know, I think that’s important and see it as a, as a in a world where we’re all talking about hard skills. And actually, this is a soft skill that will really allow you to accentuate your hard skills.


I think that’s really valuable. Kinsley and I liked the fact that you emphasise that it is a soft skill, but we can still have processes around it. We can still be deliberate and have a system and have a plan and work on these soft skills because they’re just so valuable.


Yeah, absolutely, totally agree.


Thank you very much for coming on the podcast today. Kingsley Aikens, the CEO of the networking Institute, public speaker, mentor and networker. Thank you very much


And anybody interested just get on the networking Institute website. Lots more information there.


Fantastic Kingsley and we’ll link to the networking Institute in the podcast notes. Thank you very much for listening to the international risk podcast today and be sure to subscribe for more episodes.

1 thought on “Episode 81: Kingsley Aikins on Networking and its Role in Mitigating Risks

  1. Pingback: Networking your way to the top: How to climb the corporate ladder – The International Risk Podcast

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