How Your Community Can Improve Your Career

Robin Y. Greenlee, Acting Chief Risk Officer of MapleMark Bank in Dallas, TX, shares how community helped her understand her calling and offers four lessons she learned along the way.

Don’t have time to read this blog? Listen to it below!

“It’s not what you know but who you know.” 

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: if we want to move ahead in our careers, it’s all about meeting the right people. And for each time we have heard this time-worn advice, there are at least a dozen stories of how someone got that plumb job, found that perfect opportunity, met the biggest client, received the choicest publicity—not by applying for it but by knowing or meeting someone who made it possible.

There is no denying the value of our human network. But it often seems, as we are climbing the proverbial ladder, that those perfect connections seem more elusive than this advice would suggest. So how do we surmount this obstacle? How can we conjure up the right connections from where we are, especially when our starting place is not exactly a high-visibility position?

I confess that in my more gullible youth, I imagined that the magic combination of “right people” would appear at just the perfect moment to propel me to well-deserved success, well, magically. After all, I’ve always been dedicated and industrious, smart and dependable. Surely the world would see the value of my hard work and beat an anxious path to my door.

I probably don’t have to tell you that much of my hard work simply got me…more hard work. 

Lesson #1 – Get out of your comfort zone.

It was challenging to break out of my comfortably-worn path and do what did not come naturally: go out and build a network from a vast array of strangers. 

The first challenge was to realize and BELIEVE that hard work was not enough to get me ahead. The facts are simply undeniable that putting in long hours of hard work and producing good results may be enough to get and keep a standard, stable job, but it isn’t enough to make you stand out from the MANY others around you who do the same thing so that you can achieve the career growth to which you aspire. If I wanted to make a difference, I had to be different – and make others see that difference.

My second challenge was my starting place. My positions had always been inward-facing rather than out-reaching positions. By that I mean operational or internal functional positions where my “customers” were other staff in my company. Most sales, marketing or executive positions tend to have built-in opportunities for networking because they by their very nature involve calling on people or going to functions. I discovered I would have to find my own networking opportunities – and give myself permission to invest time and effort into them.

This turned out to be a great learning experience and lots of fun! I’m so glad that I took the initiative to get out there and make the effort regularly to connect with people wherever I could.

My job became not just DOING, but GOING

And it’s not coincidental that Jesus built this into His last commands to His people before he left the earth: “Go ye therefore…” [Matt. 28:19-20]  There is doing in this command, but it comes after the going. Hmmm…

Lesson #2 – Not all networking opportunities are created equal.

I eventually found that some (perhaps many) of the efforts I invested in yielded little if any fruit toward my career aspirations. At the beginning, that was okay because I was meeting people and trying things out to see what fit—I was learning. But at some point my time became too limited to invest unproductively. So where to concentrate my efforts for the best return on investment?

Setting goals and researching the opportunities to identify those that best align with your desired direction can help you minimize the wasted effort and enter the circles where the most valuable contacts already circulate.

Mentoring and advice can bring BIG dividends in this regard. Seeking out those who are or have been where I want to be and getting their input on what has value can make a powerful difference. 

But it isn’t enough to get into the right circles. We also need to build relationships with people in those circles. That means that those blessed few must be willing to share their abundance with others (i.e., you and me).

Sadly, that is not always the case.

Lesson #3 – Getting what you want.

Many years ago (never mind how many), I read a book by Zig Ziglar called See You At the Top. Ziglar was a highly successful salesman and sales coach who had become a motivational speaker and writer. Something he wrote in that book has stuck with me all these years, perhaps because he repeated it over and over and over:

“You can get what you want if you help enough other people get what they want.”

This came back like a lightning bolt to my mind when I tried to discover how to get the help I needed to grow my career. At first I thought, “I have nothing to offer because I haven’t gotten anywhere yet. I’ll be glad to help others when I get up the ladder.” 

But that’s no good. Helping others had to come first. My second objection: “What do I have to offer?” Herein I found just what I needed! I was hoping for others to give me the benefit of their time, wisdom and influence to help me get ahead, so I had to be ready and willing to offer MY time, wisdom and influence to others to help them get ahead. My problem was that I believed I couldn’t be any help in my current position, but that is NEVER true. We ALL have something to offer, even if it is only a listening ear. 

I was worried about solving people’s problems rather than offering them help. As a Christian, I realized that the results of my help were God’s business and not necessarily mine. My responsibility was to be available for God to use in the lives of others. So I began taking those calls, emails or meetings, listening, asking questions, then seeing if perhaps I had advice or an introduction I could provide to help that person take their next step. Focusing on providing help to others instead of focusing on whether I could solve someone’s problem was so liberating! 

Lesson #4 – You have more to offer than you thought.

By being available and willing to offer what I can, I found no end of resources making their way back to me, both to fulfill my goals and to fill the needs of others. By stepping out of my comfort zone and connecting other people to one another, I found that I had more to offer than I thought, I gave more help than I realized, and affected more results than I expected – I worry less and participate and celebrate more!

I believe it is common for many of us to fear offering our help because we don’t think we can really make a difference. But when I have done what I could, little though it might seem, I have found God making much of my little.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” [Luke 6:38 NIV]

Like the little boy with the few loaves and fish, I found my little to be much in the hands of Someone who knows how to use it and knows why He gave it. Even though I have moved to a new community, I found that my former associates and colleagues, as well as the new ones I’ve met through 4word, are willing to respond to my requests for help for myself and for others.

I found that I had a ready group of cheerleaders who would encourage me when I needed help believing in what I can achieve. I found a willing and able group of go-getters to whom I can turn to find answers for myself or help someone else along the next step in their path. I found an amazing mentor program peopled with Difference-Makers who selflessly give their time and talents to invest in someone coming up behind them. And I found a community where I can offer my own encouragement and efforts to change the world – or at least my little corner of it.

Most of the limits to career growth I have encountered along the way were self-imposed by obstacles of my own making that God has been ready and willing to take me beyond if I would simply avail myself of His provision. And one of His most abundant provisions is His community.

You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes. [Phil. 4:19-20 – The Message]

So who do YOU know?

Robin Greenlee currently serves as Acting Chief Risk Officer of MapleMark Bank in Dallas, TX. She has 20+ years of experience in Lending, Credit and Risk Management as well as servicing in the community through financial education and non-profit Board service.  

Robin is also a long-time avid Bible teacher and student, currently teacher adult Bible Study and servicing on the worship team at Northwest Bible Church in Dallas. She loves to public speaking, writing, singing jazz, and visiting family in her native state of Alabama whenever possible.

Robin holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alabama and also attended the University of Montevallo. Robin is an effective communicator and problem solver, who loves to collaborate with others to achieve great results. This includes making an impact through mentoring, including serving through the 4word Women Mentor Program where she can make a difference in the lives of others.