The connected mindset: A new way to work the room

The first visit of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to the Victoria Harbour happened because of the networking skill of one engaged leader

The first visit of the USS Abraham Lincoln to the Victoria Harbour happened because of the unique skill of one engaged leader

In the summer of 1996, Cedric Steele attended a small dinner in honour of some senior American naval officers at the Empress Hotel. The past chair of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce was seated next to four-star Admiral Archie Clemins, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, based in Hawaii. Toward the end of the evening, the Admiral thanked Steele for his company and then asked, “Cedric, is there anything I can do for you?” “There is, Admiral,” Steele responded. “The people of Victoria have never had the honour of hosting one of your aircraft carriers for a port visit.”

An aircraft carrier visit is a huge request at the best of times, but given Victoria’s shallow harbour, this was a particularly ambitious ask. A flurry of emails and phone calls ensued over the following week, finally reaching the desk of the U.S. chief of naval operations in Washington, D.C., with a request for a special waiver. A week later, Steele received an email from Pearl Harbor. It simply said, “Cedric, the Abe is coming in February—Archie.” The visit of the USS Abraham Lincoln was both a huge success and the start of a regular aircraft carrier port call to Victoria.

Networks can often produce some rather startling results, but a couple of things had to happen for an aircraft carrier to show up in Victoria’s harbour. Firstly, Steele had to be at the table where he could meet the right people. Cedric was a successful business executive, and he was also a very engaged community leader, which is what got him invited to the dinner. Secondly, Cedric was more than a leader; he also had great skills to connect and he applied them—he had a “connected mindset.” He looked at this social event as a window of opportunity, a point in time, where he could bring something great to the city of Victoria, and he did just that. This one connection brought millions of much-needed dollars to the city during its low season. Later, Victoria became a regular port of call for U.S. aircraft carriers. The community and the chamber of commerce were delighted, and the United States Navy was so pleased with the reception the ship and its crew received that it awarded Cedric two medals (U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Achievement awards and a Gold Star) for making it all happen.

Engaged leaders have a connected mindset, and they apply it routinely. They have the presence, awareness, capabilities and habits to develop and maintain a strong and connected network. They are active, and they think, talk and do engagement—and they do it not only within a close circle of contacts, they bridge silos routinely. They do it everywhere—at work, at play, at conferences, at sporting events, in the line-up at the theatre, at dinner parties. They are constantly and consistently aware when they are in a networking setting, and they’ve developed the skills, the discipline and the habits to connect. It’s second nature to them. Engaged leaders such as Cedric Steele touch people by being authentically present in the moment, and people usually come away from the encounter feeling better—feeling better about themselves, better about their community and better about the possibilities that exist. Their greatest sense of reward is in discovering what they can do for someone else and networking to make that happen.

Darcy Rezac is CEO of Anapacific & Shepa Learning and adjunct professor at the Gustavson School of Business at UVic. Ali Dastmalchian is dean of the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Daniel Muzyka is president and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada and the RBC Financial Group Professor of Entrepreneurship at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. Claudia Steinke is an associate professor within the faculties of management and health sciences at the University of Lethbridge.