Relationships Are the Currency of the 21st Century

Keep your bitcoin. If you want to gain success, focus on investing in relationships.

Several years ago, a mentor took me aside and provided some valuable advice. He said that throughout our career we will attend various schools and training. We will work for and with different organizations and even within those organizations we may be assigned to various departments. Through these times we meet people and make friends, The key is to maintain relationships we have made as we move on to our next role. Those who can find a way to maintain the relationships they have developed, even after moving on, generally live more fulfilling and more successful lives.

Developing and maintaining relationships is an investment. It is an investment of not only time but energy. However, just like having the discipline to save money every month, having the discipline to cultivate and maintain relationships pays dividends.

The Value of Relationships

Relationships can add value to our professions and lives in a myriad of ways. They can help us find training and educational opportunities. People we have a relationship with can assist us in hearing about the latest trends and recommend books to read. A strong network can help us find a job and help us rise in our careers. Through relationships, we can have greater success with selling our products and services. Relationships can help us learn, grow, and thrive but can also provide us opportunities to pay it forward and help others.

Mining Golden Relationships

The first step to cultivating a relationship is being present. This could mean being present either virtually or on-site. In an online/social media environment I take advantage of opportunities to add to a discussion when I believe I can provide a helpful insight. This is usually on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. When I accept a friend request on LinkedIn, I usually send a message back thanking the person for inviting me to connect and providing information about my website or YouTube channel.

In terms of on-site opportunities, I do my best to attend networking events I am invited to.  There are many opportunities to mine for golden relationships if we look for them. Getting involved at school, church, a service organization, or volunteer work are great opportunities outside of one’s work environment, especially if you are working from home.

In an on-site work environment, I have found that it is helpful to get to know as many people as possible outside of your immediate circle of co-workers. I always try to get to know the people who do work behind the scenes and who are sometimes ignored by others. These include people like the person who cleans the offices in the evening or the security guard.

Getting to know executive assistants is critical. I had a friend once who was assigned as an aide to a senior leader in the Army. He was a young soldier who many people might find it easy to ignore. He gave me some great insight. He said the senior leader would ask his opinion about people they were both encountering. My friend told me that the people he would lavish praise on were the people who would take the time to say hello to my friend and treat him with respect. The people he would often not have anything good to say about were the people who ignored him. His advice to me was to always say hello and get to know the aides and assistants to senior leaders. Many times, their opinions would be asked for and what they had to say about others would be considered.

Give Before You Receive

I try to establish non-transactional or relational relationships rather than transactional ones. To establish non-transactional relationships, you must be prepared to give of yourself. This could mean finding ways to help others by providing introductions to other people or sending useful information their way.

It is important to provide others something of value. When I find an article online, I like to send the link to someone I think would be interested. When I read a good book, I like to think of who I could share the book recommendation with, and in some cases, I will mail that person a copy of the book, or better yet, meet with that person and hand them a copy.

I always stay alert to how I might be able to connect two people. When I see an opportunity where someone could benefit from knowing a particular person that I have a relationship with I readily agree to connect the two people through either an email or personal introduction.

I have found that when you do your best to do good things for people, good things will also come your way.

Maintaining a Presence in a Virtual World

The internet surge over the past decade coupled with the pandemic has caused many people to learn, work, and socialize in a virtual environment. Although challenging, it is possible to develop and sustain relationships virtually. This skill has become essential during the pandemic.

When operating in a virtual environment there are certain actions to take to gain and maintain relationships. Do your best to keep your camera on during virtual meetings so others can see your face and expressions. Encourage others to do the same. Overcommunicate and vary your communications channels by using email, phone, texts, and virtual meeting platforms. Go analog and send handwritten notecards so people in your network know you are thinking about them. Take opportunities to have lunch with other people face to face, even if it means picking up some food to go and meeting at an outdoor picnic area.

A social media communications expert once told me that if you are not on social media, you virtually don’t exist. She also advised that our followers on various social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, (you name it), are not responsible for engaging us. Once we have followers it is our responsibility to engage them. That implies a proactive mindset in how we keep our followers interested in our content. A proven technique is to use the question mark. Embrace the “?”. Ask questions that will encourage your followers to provide answers and join the discussion.

Even though the virtual environment has become the new normal for many, I believe we must take opportunities to engage on a face-to-face basis whenever possible. If I had a choice between online training and on-site training, I would do my best to participate in on-site training. The body language is so much clearer in a face-to-face setting, and the rapport before, during, and after a class or a presentation can be much more meaningful and valuable. Look for those on-site and face-to-face opportunities.

Leading By Developing Relationships

It is imperative for leaders to develop and maintain relationships externally and internally. External relationships are relationships organizational leaders have with fellow leaders who lead similar organizations and other stakeholders that might be able to assist with resources or advice. These relationships could be cultivated from past academic and training opportunities as well as from being a member of professional organizations and attending conferences and other similar events.

Internal relationships with followers come from having a “muddy boots” leadership style, also known as “management by walking around.” This is where a leader engages their followers on a one-on-one basis to get to know them on a more personal level. Getting around and showing sincere interest in those you lead is an ideal way to learn about a follower’s hidden skills and talents and get to know what makes them tick.

In their book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace”’ Gary Chapman and Paul White point out how people respond to demonstrations of appreciation differently. It is imperative a leader understands what motivates their followers and this must be done on an individual basis because everyone is different and responds to motivation differently.

Time and Energy

It takes time and energy to develop relationships and it takes even more time and energy to sustain those relationships over the long term. It is not necessary to communicate with people every day to maintain relationships, but a periodic message to check in or share something useful usually is sufficient and is like having money in the bank.

Saving money for the future is about taking a portion of your earnings and investing it. Similarly, we must be just as disciplined in taking a portion of our time and energy and investing it in other people.

MG John L. Gronski (USA, Ret.) is the author of Iron-Sharpened Leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Leader Grove, LLC, a leadership consulting firm. Along with being an author, John is an executive coach, and leadership consultant, and trainer.

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