When I give talks to college and graduate students, they always ask me, "What are the secrets to success? What are the unspoken rules for making it big?" Preferably, they'd like my response wrapped up in a tight package and tied with a neat little bow. Why not? I wanted the same thing at their age.
"So you want the inside scoop," I respond. "Fair enough. I'll sum up the key to success in one word: Generosity." The kids are shocked because they think I'm going to give them "networking" advice. And when they think of "networking," they think of a guy holding a martini with one hand and scattering business cards with the other. He's hell-bent on doing anything it takes to "get to the top," including climbing on the backs of others.
The era of that Networking Jerk is over. I learned that the hard way. Once, a mentor of mine said to me, "Stop driving yourself -- and everyone else -- crazy thinking about how to make yourself successful. Start thinking about how you're going to make everyone around you successful."
Please, learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of many others. Don't be a networking jerk. Remember that the #1 key to success is generosity. Give your talents, give your contacts and give your hard work to make others successful without ever keeping score.
While I would say that your relationships are the most critical piece of your personal brand, before you can develop those relationships you've got to know something and have something to say. Just having a brain and an MBA won't get you anywhere anymore. If you want to become more valuable in the marketplace or more intriguing to the world at large, you must develop some deep expertise in your mind and root some higher-order passion in your heart.
Think of the world's real movers and shakers; they are such because they are about something. Richard Branson -- executing the remarkable. The late Princess Diana -- helping the unfortunate. They are and were interesting. You can be, too.