Career success is often attributed to talent, performance, academic pedigree, and luck. How often do we give credit to the ability to build relationships?
Are you the type who reflects on your professional journey every year-end? If so, how would you evaluate 2017? Is it a great year because you earned a promotion, got an overseas posting, received the best increment ever. Maybe you got a great role, had a massive impact on your organisation or experienced personal learning as an individual? Think about how you achieved them. Let’s process successful careers further.
When you meet somebody who has had a successful career what are your thoughts? That they are talented, worked hard, deserved the success? Occasionally, you might feel they got lucky, or that they sucked up to their bosses and things like that. All of them could be true.
In my view
professional success over a long period of time has one consistent theme: The ability to build personal and professional relationships.
When I say relationships, I don’t mean network. For many of us network means whom we know personally or our social media network. Today we count network in the form of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Quora followers. It’s one thing to have vast followers on social media and play to their likes. Building relationships is completely another matter.
Think about some of the people whom you would consider successful. Choose professional CEOs or entrepreneurs who made it big. Some of them could be from Ivy League colleges and thereby got good breaks in marquee companies. The successful entrepreneurs had unique and path-breaking ideas that took them to fame and riches. This is what we get to see from a distance. You would agree that the path to the top depends on multiple aspects. Consistent performances, constant development, adapting to different situations and taking risks are some of the traits identified with top leaders. Besides all of these, most of them would have had a unique way of building relationships which made them successful. Some may have had it in their DNA, and a few would have learnt the skills along the way.
Let’s define relationship as an ability. Let’s not substitute it as just PR. There are people who display great flair for relationships in public but are terrible in private.
I would define relationship as an ability to create trust without any agenda.
Many of the successful people I see create trust seamlessly with their team, peers, bosses and external stakeholders consistently. What we don’t see is their relationship trait beyond their idea. The crux of their success comes from having meaningful relationships with their customers, investors and core team. Beyond role, designations, and money we all like to work with people who respect and trust us. That’s what great leaders and entrepreneurs provide. They believe in quality relationships and attract talented people to work with them or to buy their products. They also deal with difficult situations tactfully which makes them successful.
Relationships and Time
Can relationships be built? I honestly don’t know. Whenever people ask me how it can be built I have struggled to articulate the “how”. I have heard suggestions like go to offsite with your team, take people out for lunch, gift people on their birthdays. Furthermore, reward achievements, go out for social events, be nice. All these sound like a marketing campaign to buy ‘likes’. When we find colleagues, who are terrible with their team, we say why don’t you appreciate their efforts and forge relationships. Can relationship be built with sweeteners like appreciation? Are there certain traits which make you better at relationships, say, something like communication? I have met people who aren’t the most articulate or charismatic, even introverts. Yet, they have built great relationships across the ecosystem.
Relationships get built when we are able to give time to others. People really value the when a priceless resource like time is shared with them.
Test of true impact
People around us feel our impact without saying a word all the time. But, spending time with people, timely communication without an agenda, being together during crucial times, and staying in touch are some of the simple ways of building relationships. The difficulty in maintaining that over a long period of time is the biggest challenge we have. Certain isolated situations make this difficult to maintain in the professional setting. We take one-off incidents seriously and hamper relationships which would have lasted decades or a lifetime. When you tell your colleagues that they have not performed in an assignment, or when you stand up to your boss demanding appreciation or when it’s time to part with your investor, then the relationship is the natural casualty.
Individuals who are able to manoeuvre these tricky parts of life with the least bruises are likely to build long lasting relationships
The most powerful influence we need to have is on people when we are not around. Our career, though created by our efforts, is decided through the decisions of others. The discussions about us, the decisions about us, are taken mostly in our absence. Our colleagues, bosses, peers, investors, customers all pass judgements about us when we are not present. Performance and service can have ups and downs. What can keep us steady with them is our relationship which leads to positive perception in our absence.
Do you think from 2018 you can be a little less selfish and give importance to the people around you? I am definitely going to give it a try. If some of you get calls from me or invitations to meet, then you know that my claim is not made merely for this column!
Edited Version of this post First Published in Hindu Business Line.
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