07/25/2012 02:11 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2012

Networking: Dirty Word or Lever of Success?

How is it that some people are more successful than others? Some of it is definitely their smarts, skills and experience. And yes, some of it is probably a little bit of luck. But I firmly believe that a big part of anyone's success is their network.

Everything in the world is built on relationships. And I am not just saying that because I grew up in Russia -- the country where the success of your business is directly correlated to the size and reach of your network. I believe this is true with everything in life. And the reason is because no one can be successful alone. George Burton Adams put it well:

There is no such thing as a "self-made" man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.

But somehow over the years, the word 'networking' became somewhat of a dirty word, often times associated with a 'hidden agenda' or 'manipulation.' These ideas cannot be farther from the truth, not if you truly understand the value of it and practice its true principles.

One of my favorite experts on the topic is Keith Ferrazzi. He wrote several books on the power of building relationships -- Never Eat Alone and Who's Got Your Back -- and more than deserved the title of the "Networking Tsar." Keith's philosophy is that networking is all about generosity, which in turn leads to career karma. If you do everything in your power to help others achieve success and open your own network to others, the success will find you as well.

I am fortunate enough to also call Keith a friend, so I sat down with him to explore this topic further.

Ekaterina: Keith, people have different definitions of networking. What does 'networking' mean to you?

Keith: Unfortunately, too many people think of networking as loaded with contrived words and ideas like 'manipulation,' 'using another person,' 'inauthentic' and ideas like 'what's in it for me?' To me, networking is pretty simple. It's building real relationships in mutual service of each other's goals. The whole purpose of networking is leading with generosity and through that, building real and authentic relationships.

Ekaterina: In your books and seminars you discuss the principle of generosity. You advocate always asking, "What can I do for you?" first. This is at the core of what true relationship-building should be. Talk to us about that.

Keith: Generosity is key. People are very busy these days and hearing, "here is what I need from you" won't get you far. It's selfish. Even the "I want to be your friend" approach is a little 'high school' sometimes; most people are too overwhelmed with their professional and personal lives and in trying to balance both, have very little time for anything else. But starting with "how can I help you?" will lead to a mutually beneficial relationship. The idea is that by leading with generosity (a compliment, an introduction to someone else, extra research about the other person's interests, etc.) you are opening the door to permission, to building a genuine relationship. That permission opens a door to a conversation, which leads to more information that you can use to help that person even further and vice versa. It's a rewarding cycle of generosity.

Ekaterina: I am curious, did you find any differences and/or similarities in how women approach networking vs. men? And if yes, in your eyes how does that aid or limit their success?

Keith: It's not about demographic characteristics that directly link to relationship style, it is mostly about psychographic characteristics -- how safe people feel around others. That said, a lot of women believe that the more open and authentic they are in the workplace, the more they'll be judged as soft; the more they share about their family, the more they'll be perceived as caring less about their professional priorities. And that's a real shame, because it's through that kind of intimacy and vulnerability that real relationships are formed, whether you are male or female. By withholding yourself from others, you are limiting your success. If you choose to limit yourself from connecting deeply, unfortunately most of the time you are going to opt-out of the kind of relationships and mentorship that will lead you to success.

Ekaterina: In your book Who's Got Your Back you talk about the principle of accountability and encourage readers to find a small group of people who would hold you to the goals you set for yourself and continuously encourage you to reach them. How important is that?

Keith: It's critical. Every single one of us should have three people who have our back. Those are the people who worry about you and at the same time hold you accountable to your dreams and goals and help you get where you want to be. Forming the accountability pact with the small circle of trusted advisers/friends is absolutely critical to your success.

Ekaterina: One of my favorite quotes by you (in your Never Eat Alone book) is: "There is genius, even kindness, in being bold." Sometimes by asking someone for a favor you can make his/her day. People love helping others, but sometimes we are too shy or independent to reach out. My personal mantra is "You never know until you ask." What is the best way to utilize that boldness in your professional and personal relationships?

Keith: Just do it -- that's the answer. Recognize that you are worthy and that people are more inclined to help you than you imagine. Don't ever be afraid to ask; the worst thing that anyone can say is 'no,' as my father used to say.

Ekaterina: What advice would you give to our readers? What is the most important thing in becoming a true connector?

Keith: Put your people plan together. Go to and start working on your relationship plan. Define the 3-4 most important people to your success, dreams and goals this year and begin building those relationship today.

Well, Keith, you'll be happy to know that ever since I read your books I almost never eat lunch alone. Thank you so much for your time!

In closing, in the words of Keith Ferrazzi from his book Never Eat Alone:

Wherever you are in life right now, and whatever you know, is a result of the ideas, experiences, and people you have interacted with in your life, whether in person, through books and music, email, or culture. There is no score to keep when abundance leads to even more abundance. So make a decision that from this day forward, you will start making the contacts and accumulating the knowledge, experiences, and people to help you achieve your goals. But first be honest with yourself. How much time are you ready to spend on reaching out and giving before you get? How many mentors do you have? How many people have you mentored? What do you love to do? How do you want to live? Whom do you want to be a part of your life?

All great questions to leave you all with. Know yourself first, clearly define where you want to go, and then reach out!