Social capital: what is it, and how can you leverage it? Social capital is like a savings account you build over time through relationships. This savings account yields powerful connections and strong networks. Learning how to build and leverage social capital is critical for your success as a leader in any organization. When built with authenticity and strategy, your social network can give you greater visibility and open doors to new opportunities. Taking the time to build and nurture a strong network will pay off dividends in advancing your career. Let’s dive into how to successfully leverage social capital!
Social Capital Definition
What is social capital? The concept is summed up in the following definition: “The goodwill available to individuals or groups. Its source lies in the structure and content of the actor’s social relations. Its effects flow from the information, influence, and solidarity it makes available to the actor.”
Another way to think of social capital goes back to the savings account idea mentioned earlier. Essentially, you are building wealth by making yourself valuable to your peers and organization through collaboration, reciprocity, and cooperation. Social capital involves your relationships, your reputation, and your results. It’s a convergence of these three elements. Relationships are built with intentionality and generosity – giving more than you receive. The beautiful thing about social capital is that you aren’t the only one benefiting. Because generosity is inherent in the concept, those in your network will see the positive effects of your efforts.
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In turn, your reputation begins to rise, and you become known as someone others want to team up with. As the snowball effect continues, it will produce results in both your career advancement and personal fulfillment.
Building Social Capital: 5 Tips
Now that we have a social capital definition, let’s look at some tips for building social capital. As we’ve stated, the process has to be something you’re committed to for the long haul. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistent, genuine effort. Building social capital means putting in twice the effort into the giving piece, and only leveraging the relationships when you need them.
When someone does something nice for you, you do something as nice or even nicer in return. Intentions are important for reciprocity… serving others for personal gain will have the opposite effect you are looking for. A genuine attitude of building goodwill is crucial here.
Create a Diverse Network
In order to grow your social capital, you need to get outside your comfort zone. Look around and identify those people who can help benefit your career, not just people you like. This is a sign of strength to be able to engage in relationship with a diverse set of personality types and skill sets. Engaging others who think differently than you will cause growth and increased visibility.
Remember people you meet and where you met them. Once you’ve added someone to your network, reach out periodically. Social capital leaders know how to maintain long-term relationships. Stay in touch with former colleagues and alums. Consider sending out an annual newsletter to those in your network to stay connected.
Nurture Your Relationships
Once you’ve identified those in your network (or as you add them), nurture the relationship by intentionally building relational equity. Celebrate important milestones with them. Make time in your schedule to network – schedule at least one networking lunch or meeting each week with someone new or to strengthen an existing relationship.
Seek out Mentors and Mentees
Everyone can learn and grow, no matter what their position. Serving as a mentor or mentee has the benefit of building your social capital while also helping someone build theirs. Both ends of a mentor/mentee relationship benefit from the experience. It increases the social network of both participants and serves as a key driver of personal growth.
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Social Capital Examples
Based on these tips, what are some real-life social capital examples you could implement today? Remember, social capital is more about the giving than the receiving, so the easiest thing to do is look for ways to benefit those around you. Try these examples and watch your social capital grow over time.
Extending an invitation may not seem like a way to build social capital, but we all need to feel included. Going out of your way to include those you’re networking with in meetings, collaboration opportunities, and social functions will go a long way.
Acts of Kindness
Acts of kindness go a long way in building social capital. This can be as simple as sharing information or advice without expectation or buying your co-worker their favorite coffee. These small acts of kindness don’t cost you much but will pay dividends in building goodwill and trust.
Introductions and Connections
Be proactive to connect people in your social network with each other. If you have the opportunity to connect someone with a relationship that will be beneficial for them, make the connection. Both sides will remember you for potential future collaborations.
‘Yes’ Is Powerful
When someone asks you for a favor, if it’s at all within your power, just say yes. This builds your reputation as a team player and keeps that wheel of goodwill and trust spinning like it should.
The long-term ROI of building social capital far outweighs the upfront investment. It is easy to relegate this to the back burner, but the time will come when you will be glad you made the investments when you did. Asking those in your network to help you or give you a recommendation will be easy because of the relational equity you’ve built. Just remember the rule of thumb. Put in twice as much effort into serving others compared to what you want to be able to withdraw. If you haven’t already started, now is the time to start building your social capital!
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