JACKIE LOWE STEVENSON, OHIO/USA
Jackie Lowe Stevenson is the founder of Spirit of Leadership LLC providing coaching, training, seminars and retreat opportunites for corporations and not- for-profit organizations. Jackie says “Work is important. We all struggle with day to day challenges trying to earn a living and do productive work while living our dreams and destinies. We seek meaning and identity in our work and strive for purpose in our endeavors. Being physically, emotionally and mindfully present provides the well spring for meaningful relationships in work and the courage and creative energy to inspire greatness in individuals and their organizations.“
Naked Networking: A Strategy for Success
Jackie Lowe Stevenson
Jackie Stevenson (March 2018)
Naked Networking: A Strategy for Success
Networking was the last thing on my mind when I entered the sauna naked except for a small towel to sit upon.
I understand that networking is an essential business skill. It connects us with people to build mutually successful business relationships, gain knowledge, share resources and expand our collective ability to make a positive difference.
Many of us, however, are resistant to networking, ambivalent about networking, hate it or see it as a necessary evil as it is often associated with being inauthentic, pretentious and disingenuous.
I happened upon the concept of naked networking in Knüllwald, Germany at the International European Association for Horse Assisted Education a professional conference that focused on learning about leadership by engaging with horses.
Following long hours of travel from the US, relaxing in the hotel sauna seemed like a great way to end the day. I learned that the tradition was to be naked in the sauna with only a towel to sit up. Soon after entering the sauna and I was joined by a woman who was at the hotel with her company for a leadership training seminar. We began sharing interests about our work and discovered we were like spirited and had much in common in how we approached leadership and teamwork. She was intrigued by the ideas of learning about leadership and team work by engaging with horses and thought this might be of interest to her organization. Having no clothes on, or pockets for my business cards, I told her I would leave my card and some information for her at the hotel desk about a colleague of mine that offered this training program with horses, just a few miles away.
What I discovered that evening in the sauna was a concept I call naked networking, a strategy for success based on a mindset to networking that is authentic, relational, genuine and even fun I shared my experience of “naked networking” in the sauna, with my colleagues at the conference, and suggested that it might be a metaphor for a more transparent and authentic approach to networking and strategy for successful business connections.
That night in the Hotel Sonnet dining room I thought I saw the woman I had met naked in the sauna at a corner table, I couldn’t be sure it was her with her clothes on but as I approached it was indeed her.
I greeted her and asked if she would like to meet my colleague Gerhard, the man I had told her about, that offered horses and leadership programs just a few miles down the road. She was interested in meeting him and so I made the introductions and he joined her at her table.
The next morning Gerhard told me that the naked networking approach worked. The woman was meeting with her boss that morning and was going to highly recommend that they incorporate the leadership with horses work into their ongoing leadership training. She also decided, as she loved horses, she would take the EAHAE training as a possible new career direction for her.
Naked networking as a metaphor and strategy offers the best of networking without the common aversion or resistance to networking. The focus in on developing meaningful relationships based on authentic interaction and transparency. With nothing to hide, nothing to exploit, naked and vulnerable we can better engage in a more selfless, unpretentious way and build productive relationships with people. Naked networking is about connection; connecting to and sharing what is most important to you and learning what is most important to others.
I had another important though quite different experience later that morning with the concept of naked networking. Engaging with the horses as part of the conference experience, the horses offered me an essential perspective about naked networking for successful relationship and making connections.
The horses were interested in connecting with me but they had no interest in my business card, how much profit my business generated or how many customers we serve. They were not impressed by name brand clothes or type of car we humans arrived in.
They simply were interested in how I was going to be with them. Was I being honest, did I try to understand the world from their point of view, would I be courageous enough to be myself with them and accept them as they were. The horse’s outer behavior was in absolute alignment with who they were on the inside. What I learned from the horses was that authenticity begins with who I am on the inside, my values within and extends outward to my behavior and actions in the world.
What I learned was that the practice of naked networking, whether in a sauna, or horse pasture or at a conference, is not about who we are it is about how we are when we are authentic and approachable, honest and humble, genuine and generous. The basis of naked networking is respectful and trustworthy relationship, meaningful connections and in persistently being our natural and lovable self.