Make It Black

Google exec shares how she builds 'truly' meaningful relationships—'funny memes,' practicing 'Shine Theory' and more

LaToya Drake, Head of Media Representation at Google
LaToya Drake

As a Black woman in a leadership position, I owe much of my success to the meaningful relationships that I've put effort into creating and nurturing over the years — in both my personal and professional lives.

Having the drive to connect deeply with people, especially in person, offers huge advantages; each person is an introduction to another person, a unique skill, a new opportunity or something you'll inevitably learn about yourself. It really is the best way to achieve success.

But it can be difficult to make these connections today, since Covid has forced distance between many of us. That's why it has never been more important to take stock of people in your circle and strengthen your connection with them.

Here are my tips on how to build truly meaningful relationships:

1. Reconnect with people outside of work

Having healthy friendships can enrich your life in so many ways. A support system encourages you to stay strong, or give you a shoulder to lean on when things get tough.

But maintaining friendships takes a lot of effort. In fact, research shows that as we age, we're not only more likely to grow apart from our existing friends, but it also becomes harder to make new ones. We may get distracted by our careers or personal life events. The more we grow into adulthood, the harder it becomes to balance and responsibilities.

Still, whether it's a college friend, an old co-worker, or maybe a former roommate, make it a point to reach out. Ask them how they're doing. Even with friends who you think are mentally strong and capable of holding it all together, checking in without asking for anything in return can strengthen your relationship even more.

However, be selective about who you choose to reconnect with. I always ask myself: Do I have the energy, headspace and time to stay connected with this person? For those who I do want to prioritize, I pick up the phone or text them. I also like sharing funny memes; it's a way to keep things light and spark some laughter.

2. Practice the 'Shine Theory'

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, co-authors of "Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close," coined the "Shine Theory" — which I am a true believer of.

The theory is about having an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self — and relying on their help in return. Make the decision to bring your full self to your relationships (with friends, family, co-workers, folks in your professional network, etc.) and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them.

As Sow and Friedman put it: "It's a commitment to asking, 'Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?'"

The answer is almost always yes.

Certainly, this takes effort. But I've found so much value in publicly acknowledging others when they achieve something great — whether it's re-tweeting, re-posting or sharing on social media about their impressive accomplishments.

I do this especially with my female peers. The small gestures exemplify the Shine Theory to other women. (And let's be real, it feels amazing to celebrate other women and their successes.)

3. Build a personal connection with your co-workers

It's easy to only focus on tasks and deadlines during the workweek. We feel there isn't time to have a real conversation that isn't about planning next week's agenda, for example. You might even think: I'm on calls and meetings with this person all the time anyway, so why the need?

Doing our jobs at work is what brings us together, but there's something uplifting about Slacking or calling a co-worker and saying, for example, "Hey, how are you doing in this moment? I heard you're moving to a new apartment. That must be exciting!"

My days are filled with meetings, and it can be so exhausting to always talk about work that I sometimes just want to hear how people doing. What's new with them? What's annoying them? Is there anything I can help with? Where are they finding joy? What TV shows are they watching?

Also, check in with team members across all levels, like the manager of a team you work closely with. They will view you in a new light — and make you seem more personable, thoughtful and likeable.

4. Find creative ways to make new connections

When I first started at Google in 2014, I came across several fascinating people who I wanted to get to know better.

So I started hosting quarterly supper clubs to build relationships with them. I also invited people who didn't work at the company, but had backgrounds rooted in news media, technology, entertainment and journalism. 

At the end of each dinner, I'd ask: "Who should be here tonight, but isn't?" Those names became the list of people I invited to the next gathering.

Of course, due to Covid, it's not possible to host an in-person networking supper club. But there are several creative alternatives to consider, like hosting a virtual cocktail hour on Skype or Google Hangouts.

LaToya Drake is the Head of Media Representation at Google, where she leads efforts to create a more inclusive media ecosystem and build partnerships that elevate often-underrepresented voices. She is also a founding member of the Google News Initiative. In 2019, LaToya was a finalist for AdColor's Innovator of the Year Award for her work in diversity in tech and media. Follow her on Twitter @LaToyaDrake.

Don't miss:

Why this CEO says 'networking is dead'—and what you should do to boost your career
Why this CEO says 'networking is dead'—and what you should do to boost your career