I’ve often seen at conferences how well known scientists and people who deliver keynote addresses, plenary and invited talks are surrounded by eager interlocutors. The people who are perceived as powerful (directors of research centres, heads of departments, presidents of organisations and such like) have a powerful pull on the throng of attendees.
These important figures are in great demand for any number of reasons: people want to ask more about their work, tell them about their own work, get opinions from them, ask them for jobs, advise, etc. the list is long.
To have an influential and powerful person in one’s own network is highly desirable.
Keeping that in mind, we all (attempt) to create networks that will benefit us professionally. Infact networking skills are highly prized (see my blogpost: The networking Connection). So we diligently try to meet people within our own organisations, and outside who we see as potentially useful. Most times useful can translate to well placed or placed higher in the hierarchy than us. This is perfectly fine.
I wonder though, if sometimes we miss half the picture?
To succeed and grow we need mentors and sponsors, and thus we look above ourselves for such individuals. But to sustain the growth we need more. I believe we need to network with our peers and those who are junior to us as well.
Our peers and contemporaries are often in crude hierarchical terms, on the same level as us. Many are competitors, while others have complementary expertise. We therefore can view them as collaborators. With that perspective we can build strong, supportive relationships that help us through our careers. The parallel growth of an entire generation produces the leaders for the future. Its important to know the person who may head your client /competitor/supplier company or help you recruit the best talent for your business, or with whom you could write the best research paper of your life!
On the rung below on the proverbial career ladder, are the people who will probably be working when we approach retirement. These bright people will be the youngest faces in our teams now, who in time will climb the ladder too. They are in fact our future too! I think its eminently sensible to support and mentor them as we have been (or wanted to be) mentored/sponsored, to treat them as valuable colleagues and friends. To me the most wonderful thing that people younger than myself (although I prefer not to think of myself as ‘old’) bring is an outlook that is fresh and unique. That’s why I really enjoy meeting students at conferences.
All in all, I think its important to realise the value of people, not just the position they occupy.