Building your inclusive professional network: Advice from LeadBoston alum Robbie Samuels on making an impact
In 2006, Robbie Samuels, LeadBoston Class of 2015, recognized a need in Boston that he could solve: a space for progressive mission-focused professionals to come together and network. So, he created Socializing for Justice. Ever since, Robbie has been a leader in Boston and beyond, dubbed a “networking expert” by a number of media outlets, including Forbes and Harvard Business Review. Through his work as a business growth strategy coach, speaker, podcast host, author, and more, he is supporting professionals to make greater impact.
In 2015, he joined YW Boston’s LeadBoston Class of 2015. He recognized it as an excellent opportunity to grow his diverse network across sectors. Despite having a good understanding of social equity, he found that he still had much to learn. Robbie knew how crucial it was to make the most out of his connections with his LeadBoston class and the program’s 1,000+ alum community.
Robbie published his second book in October 2021, Small List, Big Results: Launch a Successful Offer No Matter the Size of Your Email List, focused on supporting people to reenergize their networks in order to succeed in launching a new project. We spoke with Robbie earlier this month to learn how professionals looking to make inclusive and equitable change can apply lessons from his newest book:
Early in his career, Robbie realized the importance of social equity-minded professionals supporting one another.
Robbie has always excelled at creating community, and his love of community organizing led him to gain his Master’s in Social Work. Soon after moving to Boston in the early 2000s, he started working as Special Events Manager for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). Being new to Boston and working at a mission-driven organization is what led him to see the need for Socializing for Justice. The group, which he co-founded with Hilary Allen, grew quickly and supported equity-focused individuals across the city from 2006 to 2017. As he explains, “the idea was to bring together a community of like-minded people who were very different around how they identified and what causes they cared about, but shared values.”
It was during these events that Robbie “first realize[d] that [he] had the ability to help people network better, engage better, connect better.” He picked up on other attendees’ apprehension about networking when he asked regulars to greet newcomers, which he remembers people responding to like “deer in headlights.” They felt welcomed in the space but did not know how to take full advantage of the diversity of experience in the room. This led him to start holding trainings on networking and developing his signature talk Art of the Schmooze.
YW Boston’s LeadBoston program provided an opportunity to continue learning and to expand his network.
Robbie knew about LeadBoston for several years before joining the class, as a number of his friends and contacts were connected with the program. Allison Bauer, LeadBoston Class of 2008, invited him to a recruitment event in 2008, which is where he met Dorie Clark – someone who, since then, he says has had a major impact on his entrepreneurial career.
Fast forward to 2014. With the support of those like Dorie, Robbie decided to leave his job at GLAD to become a full-time entrepreneur. He was approached by Kathryn Henderson, YW Boston’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships (who led LeadBoston at the time), because she knew Robbie from one of his talks. She knew that the class would benefit from having an entrepreneur participate and that Robbie would contribute to the network. With Kathryn’s encouragement, he joined the Class of 2015.
He found that while he had a good amount of knowledge about Boston’s socio-economic systems, he still had more to learn. For instance, he cited the healthcare day, which introduced him to the disparities amongst Boston’s hospitals, as an eye-opening session. He found the diversity amongst the classroom enriching. Each month different class members spoke about their connections to the month’s topic, such as housing or education. Robbie found he could share his own experiences as an openly trans man who had worked on advancing LGBTQ rights. As he explained, at LeadBoston “You’re not an empty vessel to fill with knowledge. You’re showing up with experience to contribute to the overall experience for everyone else in the room, with your own curiosity and your own questions.”
During his 11 months in LeadBoston, Robbie was proactive in making the most of the time with his class. He began hosting meetups between class program days. He knew that “You’re only going to get value out of a network like this if you put into the network itself.” After graduating, Robbie stayed connected and held alumni get-togethers and then served as LeadBoston’s Alumni Engagement Chair for two years. Although he moved to Philadelphia earlier this year, Robbie is committed to LeadBoston, which he considers an especially powerful program due to the opportunity it provides participants to have open dialogue across differences.
Networking is a must for those looking to make equitable and inclusive change.
Growing a diverse network is a crucial part of becoming an inclusive leader. By meeting new people from different backgrounds, you have the chance to learn and to help others expand their thinking. Robbie emphasizes the importance of getting to know each other on a human level. For instance, when people get to know him, they also come to learn about his experiences as a queer person and that Pride is a major holiday for him, his wife, and their two children. He finds, “when people get to know me, that’s part of what they’re learning and they also know me as a business coach, as a leader, and as an educator,” and that this is what changes hearts and minds.
Robbie has found that his most innovative ideas come from these connections. He first became an organizer in college through various clubs and organizations. He learned that when he took the time to have conversations with members and evolve his ideas based on their feedback, people became much more invested in taking action. He applies this same idea to those working to make change in their organizations or sell a service. He explains, “say you’re in a company and you’re trying to get a better family leave or better health care. These are issues that affect everyone in the company, but someone has to have the resources and the skill sets to build some momentum around it by inviting input as the strategy is created.” As an inclusive leader, you can gain this support by focusing on co-creating solutions with your colleagues. Robbie’s focus on listening, community building, and collaboration resonates with LeadBoston’s skill-building component, which sets alums up for success as they embed what they learned during the program within their organizations.
Robbie’s advice for leaders looking to make an impact:
Robbie’s recent book Small List, Big Results focuses on advice for entrepreneurs, but the frameworks in his book can apply to anyone looking to make inclusive change. Intrapreneurs, those creating innovative solutions within their organization, can learn from his advice, too.
- Set clear intentions. Robbie suggests that before jumping into projects, leaders make a declaration of intent. Consider: What is a goal you want to achieve in a year? Be specific about what this looks like and what you need in order to accomplish it. His advice mirrors the community action projects that LeadBoston graduates commit to at the end of the program. By sharing their plans with their classmates, they help each other stay accountable and access key resources.
- Be proactive as you build your network. When asked what advice he has for those in the LeadBoston program, he encouraged them to take advantage of their networks early. Add your classmates on LinkedIn and invite them for coffees or group get-togethers. This advice applies to anyone who is making connections – take initiative in order to meet new people and learn from them. This includes making connections with colleagues within your workplace.
- Recognize the unique skills you bring. Robbie advises leaders to stake stock of what they are good at and enjoy doing: “What are those skills, aptitudes or experiences that you bring that differentiate you and could be a great way to stand out in a company. [Understanding this will help you play] a bigger role in joining committees that are interdepartmental and help you connect with people higher up and lower than you” within your organization.
- Stay in tune with what people need. LeadBoston works most closely with mid- to senior-level executives because these professionals are in a place to listen to their colleagues and act on what they need. Robbie advises that leaders within organizations make the space and take the time to listen to their teams. By incorporating others’ feedback, leaders can better build momentum for change within their workplaces.
A gift for you–Small List, Big Results bonus content.
Robbie created the Big Results Toolkit, which has multiple resources to help you implement the strategies in Small List, Big Results, and has provided the YW Boston community with complimentary access. Learn more about his book and download the bonus content at www.robbiesamuels.com/YW.
Become a part of YW Boston’s LeadBoston program and join a network of over 1,000 inclusive leaders in Boston. During this 11-month program, participants explore and learn how to address barriers to inclusion through facilitated dialogue, expert speakers, and peer learning. Through experiential activities, participants delve into the social, political, and socioeconomic realities of Boston and explore innovative solutions to inequity. Interested in learning more? Reach out to Rachael McCoy, LeadBoston Senior Manager, at email@example.com with any questions about the program.