Listen to "NCMM Expert Perspectives" on Spreaker.

Ryan Paugh is the co-author of  Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships That Matter. “It’s one of the business books everyone will be reading in 2018,” says Business Insider.  A serial entrepreneur and community builder, Paugh co-founded the Young Entrepreneur Council and (before that) Brazen Careerist to help young professionals access the resources, technology and community that they need to grow. The NCMM recently caught up with Paugh to discuss how middle market leaders can build social capital and community to help grow their careers and businesses.

How important is social capital and connections for middle market business leaders?

Paugh: Social capital is essential because people are going to be your most important asset in business and in life. The people around you are going to provide you with opportunities to grow your business and your career. We all need to be invested in investing in other people.

We need to stop thinking about “networking” as being about gaining referrals to new clientele or new hires, and start getting into building real relationships, building an actual bond with other human beings -- building that trust so that real, immeasurable value can happen.

What’s the difference between traditional networking and being a “superconnector”?

Paugh: When I think about a networker, it’s this caricature of someone at a tradeshow who’s handing out business cards to every person he meets and having lots of superficial conversations. Superconnectors are more methodical about how they’re building relationships. Before they even talk to someone, they're thinking about what questions they can ask, trying to figure out how they can support and help the other person. We need to get past transactional, what-can-you-do-for-me approaches and get back to real human connection.

How might a middle market leader begin to become a superconnector?

Paugh: It starts with self-awareness. You need to have strong self-awareness to be a superconnector, which means understanding your strengths and weaknesses  Superconnector is not a book written for the extroverts in the world. Some of the best superconnectors out there are introverted. So, you’re going to find advice in this book that works no matter who you are as a person.

Becoming a superconnector is not a one-size-fits-all philosophy. You need to understand which strategies are going to work best for your your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, and then try them out. That starts with understanding yourself, developing self-awareness.

What are common traits of superconnectors?

Paugh: Superconnectors are naturally curious people. That's an important quality for you to invest in to get better at connecting with others. If you’re not curious about what other people are doing, it’s going to be hard to make a genuine connection. Superconnectors are interested in what other people are passionate about, what they're working on. If you try to fake curiosity, people pick up on it fast.

Get and stay interested in the world around you, read the news, read books, read magazines, watch documentaries, do things to be intellectually stimulated. All this is going to help you have better conversations and naturally connect with others. All people, including middle market company leaders, need to have a natural balance between having a deep interest in their own business and being curious about the rest of the world. That balance will make you a three-dimensional. more effective business leader and connector.

How do superconnectors engage in “small talk” differently from networkers?

Paugh: It’s about knowing the difference between good and bad questions to ask others. One question I dislike is ‘what do you do?’ Another I don’t like is ‘how can I help you?’ These questions are so vague and so high-level that most people don’t know how to answer them.

A superconnector is going to ask questions that allow them to extract information and help them figure out how they can help the other person. One great question, for example, is ‘what are you working on right now that you’re excited about?’ That always gets people talking. Anyone who is passionate about what they're doing will talk for hours about what they’re working on. Tap into the passions of others through good questions.

How might middle market leaders join groups/communities to drive connection?

Paugh: There are communities out there for most industries and professions, and great community leaders curating them. Go on the web, Facebook, LinkedIn and see who’s out there and start having conversations with people. If people are asking questions that you feel you can help them with, reach out and provide value. Sharing your ideas is absolutely mission-critical today. Be active on social media. Be active in forums and communities. Be an active conversationalist at events. Show you have something of value to share.

How can middle market leaders leverage the web and social media to create (super)connections?

Paugh: Online reputation management a so essential today. Make sure that when people search you via Google, as they always will, you have an online presence. Have a complete profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. Get listed on industry trade directories. I have a complete profile on Crunchbase, which is a database of entrepreneurs and VCs and business owners.

The idea is to give people something positive to find out about you. Have an online footprint that’s professional and showcases your strengths. Investing in a website is easier than it’s ever been, so consider setting up a personal branding site. We’re all Googling each other these days. Finding nothing about you from an online search can be a reason for someone not to meet with you, even if you’re the smartest person in your industry.

What else would you like to tell leaders of middle market companies about Superconnectors?

Paugh: The book is a collection of ideas and strategies we developed from researching what superconnectors are doing. Read it and get inspired to create your own path as a connector. If networking has become a painful process for you, if you’re tired of going to events and coming home with handfuls of business cards that you throw away, read Superconnectors and choose what approaches might work best for you. We’re all different, but I believe we're all capable of being better connectors and building better relationships in a more meaningful way.