By TEDxWestshore's amazing PR superhero: Marla Bautista
Joanne Sullivan is a Tampa living legend. As the current Director of Community Relations at the University of South Tampa Health, she not only knows all the great people in the Tampa Bay area, but she has more than likely connected them to someone who knows you. Because that’s what she does, she is a connector of people, building and fostering relationships that work.
I had the opportunity to get to know her and learn how she uses her connectivity and influence to build thriving professional and personal relationships throughout Tampa. Here, she shares insights into how she creates relationships, what we can do to foster positive professional relationships, and she even shares with us a few secrets.
Marla: What does it mean to be a connector of people?
Joanne: To me, it means creating relationships that lead to benefits, even when I’m not necessarily the one benefitting. My mantra is: We are all here to help each other. If I can do something to help you, I will do it, whether it benefits me or not, because it’s the right thing to do.
Marla: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a position while building it simultaneously?
Joanne: The job I have now, I invented. The first hurdle I needed to overcome to obtain this position was writing a compelling enough proposal to get the organization to consider creating this position and then hire me for it. This required skills, both writing and persuasion. But, more importantly, I needed an advocate. I needed an individual inside the organization who would connect me with the people that could make this opportunity come to fruition. The next hurdle came after I got the job. Because the job was new, there were no previous metrics or analytics to guide me. So every minute, I had to convince the organization of the value of employing me. It was like an extended audition. Albeit, what I had going for me was that I had an extensive network of connections in the area that could ultimately benefit the organization.
Marla: What is the secret to longevity within your career?
Joanne: I’ll tell you the secret to longevity; it’s one word, integrity. Mark Twain has a beautiful quote that states, “Always tell the truth, and you don’t have to have a great memory.” I have held onto integrity throughout my career, sometimes to my peril. Because when you close your eyes at night, you are all alone in there. You’ll know if you’ve done right or if you’ve fudged the lines.
Marla: Do you have a favorite book or one that you are currently reading?
Joanne: I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. I am pretty fond of Gladwell’s books. This book talks about how you become successful by playing your game, not someone else’s game. He uses the biblical story of David and Goliath as an example. David was determined not to play Goliath’s game, hand-to-hand combat, because he knew he couldn’t win. The book’s entire premise is to find out what you are good at and be good at it. Be who you are.
Marla: What would you say is the most overlooked detail individuals miss when cultivating community partnerships?
Joanne: Mutual benefit. When you want something from somebody, sometimes you’re so focused on what you want that you don’t take the time to build the relationship so that there is an opportunity for mutual benefit. Many inexperienced relationship builders don’t take the time to develop relationships. You don’t ask for something without having some relationship equity. My belief is, I can’t ask anyone for anything unless I’ve made some deposits into the relationship account. Being genuinely curious and authentic is the best way to build a relationship that has a mutual benefit. When I go to a networking event, I try to have at least three substantive conversations. My main purpose is to create a connection. I think of myself as a Yente. Have you heard of the Fiddler on the Roof? The Yente was the matchmaker. The Yente would go to the house of the man who has daughters, and they’d find men for the daughters to marry. I’m not setting people up to get married, but I am setting people up to connect with other people who can help them.
Marla: If you could give someone new to relationship building some advice, something you wish you would’ve known, what would it be?
Joanne: Don’t rush it. Have the courage to tell people, not yet. In the end, when you’re building a reputation for being a connector, you have to be sincere. It’s not possible to build a relationship from one experience. You have to continue to cultivate it and develop it. I do lots of things that remind people that I’m paying attention to them, and you know what people like—knowing that someone is paying attention to them. We live in a world where we are faceless and nameless. There’s nothing more important than kindness. Only people that don’t know me well think I’m nice; I’m not nice. Nice is Beige. Nice is Taupe. Kindness is the prettiest shade of Blue. Forget about the purse strings when building relationships; worry about the heartstrings. When you know where someone’s heart is, you’ll know what to do next.
Marla: If the audience could take away only one thing, what would you want them to know?
Joanne: Nothing will make your life richer than relationships, one’s that are well cultivated and well-cared for.