Beyond Wasta – the Real Power Is in Helping

Jacqueline L. Nottingham
Counselor – Academic Bridge Program

Every day I’m reminded how small the world is. With each memory that crosses my mind, I find myself connected through time and space to the world around me.


We’ve all heard the idea that people are on average six, or fewer, social connections away from each other (Sermaxhaj, 2020). In other words, our “friends of friends” connect us in more ways than we know or can imagine, which I recently experienced firsthand when a Turkish friend, an alumnus from my alma mater Virginia Tech, introduced me to his neighbor who grew up in the same university town.


His new acquaintance, who had lost his job during the COVID-19 crisis, turned out to be best friends with the son of two of my close former colleagues. Ultimately, I was able to offer him some possible referrals to explore, and he was eventually hired into a full-time position.


Thanks to our common connections and through the simple act of maintaining a relationship with one individual, my alumnus, led me to helping another person, a stranger, which made a difference. Now that stranger is a connection and part of my larger network.


Giving, not receiving


You may have heard people say that in business, it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.  While the concept of “wasta,” i.e., nepotism, is well-known in this area, the idea of being a connector isn’t as familiar. Malcom Gladwell, in his book “The Tipping Point”, highlights the strength of Connectors and the key role they play in bringing people together.


In today’s world of “likes” and “follows”, people around the world are opening up further to gain exposure, which reflects in the number of their Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections. But we tend to forget that in order to get ahead, we must cultivate and develop relationships. Networking is not just about being a Connector and being connected; it’s about building and nurturing relationships – really connecting.


And that means finding ways to help others, and building long-term relationships with your contacts, which is vital to personal and professional growth and developing a good reputation over time as well (Michael Page, 2018).


In his book “Power Relationships”, Author Andrew Sobel noted that when it comes to networking, quality trumps quantity (Zetlin, 2014). Quality connections support us through difficult times, nurture our talents, and propel us to accomplish amazing things. In short, they’re the sort of relationships that can make our dreams come true. But they’re also rewarding in that they require us to give, support, and help the other person grow as well.


Relationships also influence both our professional and personal lives. The people we meet, befriend, collaborate with, and even those whom we fall in love with all play a huge part in shaping our futures (Sobel, 2014). If you want to connect with someone, find a way to help that person. Acts of kindness and selflessness often create bonds that can significantly strengthen a relationship.


This was the case when I agreed to virtually meet with an industry colleague who had attended the same graduate program at Indiana University, although about 10 years apart. The woman, who contacted me on LinkedIn, was exploring job opportunities in Qatar.


An hour and a half into meeting, we discovered that we shared the mentorship of the same lead professor, that we both loved to travel, cook, and were also fraternal twins. We immediately became friends and since then have often collaborated, exchanged ideas, and sought advice from one another. This only reinforces our bond.


The point is networking is about sharing, not taking, Michael Page noted in his 2018 book. When you focus on people, by offering your assistance, people will remember it. Being genuine cultivates trust. Having a generous spirit makes you memorable and leaves an impression. It helps you learn about your acquaintances’ goals, priorities, and needs. Knowing their focus and their dreams allows you to offer help in a variety of ways. Chances are that your support, assistance, and generosity will come back around (Sobel, 2014). Not only will you build and lift others up, but you’ll likely make real friends and life-long friendships along the way.