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A History Lesson in Networking and Leadership

We think of networking as a modern-day business tool, one that replaced antiquated job search techniques such as responding to newspaper ads or filling out a paper application. We're encouraged to tap our close or casual business contacts for introductions to others who can lend a hand as we seek the perfect job.

However, networking actually isn't anything new. Perhaps the term is new, but the process certainly isn't. I've found a beautiful example of networking from 1909, while leafing through some treasured papers belonging to my late grandmother.

Mae, as my grandmother was known, worked in the shoe department of Gilchrist's department store in Boston, under the supervision of a man named Harland P. Leighton. Mr. Leighton was apparently a man of some prominence in the Boston retail community.

Sometime prior to March 16, 1909, Mae asked Mr. Leighton to assist a young man who was soon to be her husband as he set out on a job search. Mr. Leighton's letter indicates that he welcomed this opportunity, and he offered advice to the eager job seeker.

  • "...He says that he will be able to fix you all up OK when you apply there without a job."

  • "Know you can make good if you only try."

  • "In regard to your present position, my advice is always the same...If you are dissatisfied with your job, shake it. There is always another just as good or a little better maybe."

The exchange between Mr. Leighton and my grandmother is compelling for many reasons. It illustrates for us the power of networking, even as far back as the early 1900s. The magazine clipping indicates to me that my grandmother held Mr. Leighton in high regard, yet this man of influence and substance openly offered a helping hand to the lowly female stock clerk. These are the marks of a great leader: humble and willing to help others. It was true in 1909 and remains so today.

Mr. Leighton instructs Mae that her youthful beau can "make good if you try." Success is all about personal accountability. You can do a great job, often simply by committing to put in the effort.

My favorite part of Mr. Leighton's letter is found in the postscript.

He offers consistent, practical advice to all who want to improve their situation. Don't stay in a job that makes you miserable. Lead your own life and "shake it." There is something as good out there - or maybe even better. A true test of leadership is one's willingness to take a leap of faith in order to make better things happen.

Thanks, Mr. Leighton, for the enduring lesson in networking and leadership.

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