For highly skilled sales people, networking and identifying strategic relationships often come easily. These individuals tend to gain energy by meeting new people, create meaningful connections with ease, and quickly assess evidence of that person’s value within the network. This is part skill, part experience, and part art. But networking and building relationships is not a skill reserved for sales people. In fact, most models of High Potential include some combination of emotional intelligence and the ability to identify, develop, and leverage meaningful relationships. At the leadership level, exerting influence in the absence of formal power often comes down to both persuasion skills and engaging in alliances with influential parties.
Building a strategic network takes an intentional investment of energy. For many, the word ‘networking’ conjures up images of cocktail parties, business card exchanges, and LinkedIn connections. At best, this is prospecting. Connecting with someone who can support your immediate need is helpful, but not necessarily strategic. A new connection may or may not be interested in exerting the effort necessary to help you immediately. Leaders who want to establish meaningful, valuable relationships need to take a more long-term view. This requires identifying individuals who may not offer value now but have the possibility of playing a key role some time in the future. They establish authentic relationships and develop personal connections with others by being kind, helpful, and empathetic. They build real relational equity that may never even be leveraged for professional gain years before they might need it.
Think of relational equity as a set of two bank accounts. Each person deposits equity into one another’s account over time by gestures of friendship. This is more complex than owing another person a favor. That relationship is transactional and involves cashing in equity quickly/frequently. With relational leadership, over time that social bank account has built up into a deep, meaningful relationship shared by both individuals that is so strong that it lends itself to unsolicited helpfulness vs. a repayment of debt.
Small acts of kindness can make large deposits into the relationship account. Small gestures such as remembering someone’s birthday, expressing gratitude, showing genuine care/concern, sharing knowledge, providing an introduction, helping with a brainstorm, and even active listening are simple ways to build relational equity. The greater the equity, the stronger the relationship and deeper the trust.
“You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Ralph Waldo Emerson