Over the years, I have developed deep respect for authors like Jim Collins, Martha Beck, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Kathy Sierra, Steven Pressfield and Isabelle Allende. I adore the wit and creativity of people like Ze Frank and Hugh McLeod. I appreciate the down-to-earth business wisdom of John Jantsch, Rich and Jeff Sloan and Andrea Lee.
Maybe your list includes Joel Spolsky or Malcolm Gladwell or Anne Lamott. Or someone with much less public exposure, like the Vice President of your company, or your neighbor down the street with a fantastic marriage or the woman at your gym who has six kids and abs of steel.
Whomever you note on your “cool smart I wanna be like them when I grow up” list, you can and should look for ways to build relationships with them.
But, as creatures still stinging from the social dynamics of junior high, we can fall into “fan boy or fan girl traps” which not only make us feel insecure, but turn off the very people we are trying to impress.
So here are my tips, learned from the school of hard knocks:
Fan Boy and Fan Girl Traps to Avoid
- You are the best and I worship you! Lather, rinse, repeat.
I often start correspondence with people I admire by telling them how great they are. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, as long as you say it sincerely and with no ulterior motive. The problem is when you continually gush in each subsequent conversation. It gets uncomfortable and tiresome for them and gets in the way of good conversation for you.Alternative: You are the best and I worship you. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to know each other. Have you read this book?
- I am a nobody.
In an attempt to be humble, you may write “I don’t mean to bother you with my message, since I know you are doing great things and I am a nobody.” This is rubbish. We are all equal. Some people have accomplished a lot in their lives, written great works, sculpted strong glutes, or whatever you consider noteworthy. But this does not make them a superior human being. You can have admiration for someone while still being proud of who you are. It goes to my theory of relationships formed in Jr. High: no one wants the person who needs them too much. Don’t be the girl (or boy) desperate for a date.Alternative: You are very cool, and so am I in my own right. (Don’t use those words of course, but convey it in your attitude, conversation and body language, if meeting in person)
- I will convince you that I am worthy by spouting off my entire CV.
I just said that you are somebody worth talking to. This is true! But you don’t need to reinforce this by sharing your every accomplishment since getting a gold star for “most cooperative” in preschool. Let the relationship develop naturally. As you share information and converse, each of you will develop natural interest in the other. Or not!Alternative: Save the marketing pitch for your evening telemarketing job. Be yourself, and trust that if you make a real connection with someone you admire, they will be interested in you. If they aren’t, you can continue to admire their work from afar and pursue other mutually beneficial relationships.
- Nice to meet you! Please, oh please, will you be my mentor?
Think about the current mentors in your life. Did you like and trust them immediately? Or did your relationship grow with time and work and mutual support? Sometimes in your desire to learn as much as you can from people you admire, you ask them for specific support and guidance without having any consideration for their time. A favorite is “you are an expert in my field, would you mind reviewing my 20-page business plan?”Alternative: Respect your own time and that of busy people. Mentors grow naturally, they are not manufactured. More tips on finding a mentor here.
- You know everyone. Please link to my stuff.
We are all familiar with the context in which the word “foreplay” is normally used. The same applies to building business relationships. Just as you wouldn’t grope a potential mate the first time you meet him or her at a party, you shouldn’t immediately demand an intimate business action upon meeting someone new. I think linking to someone is an intimate act. It means I like what I read, and trust the source.Alterative: It is absolutely fine to say “This is what I’m working on. I thought you might be interested. Enjoy!” Just leave off “would you link to it?” Or even worse, “I’ll link to you if you link to me.” If you wrote a true gem that fits with their audience’s needs, they will link to it. If not, move on.
- You can do no wrong.
Everyone screws up. Sometimes we overlook glaring faults because of our cult-like devotion to the image of a person we admire. This is not helpful to you or to them.Alternative: When someone you admire does something you don’t agree with, let them know in a kind and straightforward way. “I really admire your business sense. But your latest advertising partnership with “Stomp bunnies and puppies LLC” seems really out of sync with who you are. What is your rationale for this decision?” Or “You are the most brilliant person I know in x subject. But telling a female reader of your blog to stop pulling “that woman stuff” on you was demeaning to your character, not to mention highly damaging to your brand given the amount of female clients who purchase your services. I suggest apologizing for the comment, since it could have some long-lasting negative consequences to your business.”
I still get giddy when in the presence of people I admire. When I got to meet and interview childhood feminist icon Gloria Steinem, I was quite nervous. So if you heed my advice, know that I need it as much as you do.
Please share your anti-fan boy or fan girl tips here!