A large part of our success depends on the quality of our professional relationships. Maintaining a strong network or power base takes time, discipline and strategy. As Andrew Neitlich wrote in “Elegant leadership”, “[people] neglect to take conscious steps to rescue struggling relationships, strengthen neutral ones, and leverage strong ones”. So, what’s your strategy to rescue, strengthen and leverage consciously?
I must admit: The thought of putting “strategy” and “relationship” in the same sentence makes me cringe. How can you be strategic when it comes to relationships that are inherently spontaneous, open, authentic? But as I dug deeper into this topic, I realized that building a “relationship strategy” implied great self-awareness and 3 fundamental approaches:
1. Genuinely care about the other person’s success. Develop the capacity to sincerely celebrate a person’s success and see it as something that enrich not only individuals but the community as a whole. This way, we can offer real value to each other and adopt a win-win mentality.
2. Be a “gold seeker”: instead of focusing on the other person’s imperfections, weaknesses and mistakes, always look for the gold nugget regardless of the mud surrounding it. Go for the discovery of the other person and focus on their talents and strengths rather than on their flaws.
3. Take full responsibility for the quality of the relationship. Responsibility literally means “response ability”, therefore taking full responsibility for the quality of our relationship allows us to not only own the impact we have on others, but it also allows us to take action to improve and strengthen the relationships we have with others. It means we are essentially in charge of our life.
With these 3 approaches in mind, developing a strategy can be a fantastic exercise to know ourselves better and to nurture others. Building a strong business network takes a proactive and disciplined approach and I am happy to share these 5 essential steps with you:
1. Identify the professional relationships that are key to you. Key relationships are the ones that you must absolutely develop and strengthen in order to be successful. List up to 20 people among peers, colleagues, customers, managers, direct reports, investors, outside consultants, vendors, etc… Write down their names in one column, then how they can help you succeed in a second column and finally categorize each person in the last column: who are your “strong supporters” (or “biggest fans”), who are your “neutrals” (neither supporters nor antagonistic), who are your “antagonistic” (these people don’t particularly like you, feel threatened by you or might even speak poorly of you), who are the “new acquaintances” that have heard about you but that you don’t necessarily have contact with.
2. Understand each person. Focus on the 3 to 5 most important relationships among the 20-people list you have just created and take some time to understand more about each person’s style, value system, talents. Some key questions to ask yourself about these individuals are:
What are his or her personal & business values? Goals or aspirations? Communication style? Tolerance for risk? How does he or she make decisions? How strong is his or her network or circle of influence? What are his or her talents, pet peeves, past issues with me? What are his or her passions, interests? For example, if someone has a high tolerance for risks as well as a passion for travel and start-ups, he or she may be a great strategic and financial asset if you are about to launch a revolutionary online travel agency. You get the idea…
3. Develop strategies to improve each relationship. Once you clarify how a person can help you succeed and once you understand that person better, develop strategies to improve the relationship. For each of the 3-5 key individuals you selected, ask yourself: What is my vision for this relationship in the next 3-6 months? What business value can I offer him/her? How can I adapt to his/her communication style, decision-making process, tolerance for risk? If there are past issues with me, how can I repair the relationship, then how can I strengthen it? What other strategies can I develop to spend more time with this person, either face to face or by other means? How can I use his or her network? If, during step 2, you brought up a past issue, now is the time to think about solving it: For example, accept full responsibility, admit to the mistake and ask that person for advice on how you can avoid making the same mistake in the future. If you haven’t spent much time with that person recently, brainstorm on what would be appropriate to do: Casual lunch, formal meeting, etc… Feel free to get creative and think about other ways that could strengthen the relationship.
4. Create a specific action plan for each relationship. Now is the time to get highly specific. Start with your 3-6 months goal for the relationship and write down how you will get there: How will you measure whether you achieved your relationship goal or not (example: I provide him or her with 3 influencers introductions, he or she provides me with a list of business prospects), then list up to 3 actions that will immediately strengthen the relationship (apologize for past mistake, set-up a meeting to discuss network collaboration, email a document that you believe he or she will find useful,…) and 3 actions that will strengthen the relationship over time. Also, decide how you will stay in touch on a regular basis, as well as the key messages you will communicate to that person so that he or she understand the reciprocal value proposition. Finally, identify the behaviors that you will change or adopt to make the relationship work. If the person you are developing the relationship with is a “straight-to-the-point” individual and you tend to ramble, make the commitment that you will offer key and to the point information to him or her.
5. Update. Go back to your existing list every 6 months and update, improve, expand. Select 3-5 additional key relationship and create new plans. By being consistent and intentional, you ensure your success.
Share one of your experiences here and as you move through your power base, give us an update on how it impacts you.