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Commentary

How This Immigrant Networked When She Moved to the U.S.

May 10, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some strategies for making allies in the office?” is written by Russina Sgoureva, head of business technology transformation at Farmers Insurance.

In 1991, I arrived at the California Institute of Technology as an immigrant student from Bulgaria. I knew no one and had nothing but $300 in my pocket. I had no choice but to adapt to my new culture.

This early experience taught me how to build relationships, a skill that I continue to rely on to this day. We always need allies, whether it’s to get a promotion, move to a new company, or change career paths. Finding allies helped me get to my current position with Farmers Insurance. Over time, I have learned four key things about creating allies:

Open up to others

Early in my career I was told that my peers were having a hard time getting to know me, and eventually I understood that this was because I did not always feel comfortable opening up to others. Coming from another country often made it difficult for me to understand my new environment. But at the same time, sharing my experiences as an immigrant helped me assimilate and build genuine relationships.

Make time to network

You need to create networking opportunities for yourself, such as walking to another building with someone you haven’t met or catching up with that person you need to influence. Every two to three months, I schedule a lunch or dinner with someone I’d like to get to know. In addition, I hold open office hours so that employees can come by and chat with me about what’s on their minds.

Find the influencers

Try to meet with influential people in your organization. Understand what drives and motivates them and see how you can help them. In return, they will help you. When you share a common goal, it’s much easier to expand a relationship and open up additional opportunities to collaborate.

Recognize success

As humans, we all want to feel valued and important. I try to celebrate other people’s successes, big or small. When I see that a colleague has accomplished something, I reach out to them. Recognizing someone can be as easy as slipping in an accolade when you’re introducing them to someone new, sending them a quick email, or taking them out to lunch.

When I think about the relationships I have built over the years, I often recall a story about the man who united all the tribes in Bulgaria many thousands of years ago. To convince people to join him, he picked up one arrow, broke it, and said, “When we are alone, we break.” Then he grabbed a handful of arrows and attempted to break them; of course, he couldn’t. His conclusion: “When we are together, we cannot be broken.”

At the end of the day, building relationships and finding allies shouldn’t be forced. It should come naturally, and it will if you and your ally have a shared vision and philosophy. By taking an active role in your career and reaching out to people you don’t know, you too can create lasting and beneficial relationships.

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