In the workplace, we sometimes hear phrases like “investing in a relationship” or “building relationship currency.” These words can bring to mind people who use others for financial gain. Yet a successful business investment should provide a positive outcome for both sides of the venture. In the same way, professional networking and workplace relationships require collateral from both sides to stay positive and healthy. This concept may sound clinical, but the best version of these relationships are anything but that. Instead of viewing people as tools to help reach success, here are the steps to investing in those around us to achieve successful outcomes together.
Make the investment
Tony Gambill, Founder/CEO of ClearView Leadership, pointed out in a recent conversation that a true investment involves building value in the relationship without asking for anything in return. In other words, don’t send a message that says, “Hey, I saw you liked my article. Do you have work for me to do?” It is still vital to connect with a community online or otherwise; you should engage and be responsive. Tony went on to say the best way to do this online is by responding to every comment or share your post receives. This may involve answering a question asked. It might just be to say thank you. People appreciate being acknowledged and are more likely to continue engaging and deepening the relationship. Another important group to engage with are those who are also in your lane. Not only do they have a wealth of knowledge that you can learn from, but it is also an excellent opportunity to cross-promote them. These no-strings-attached, positive interactions build collateral in the relationship.
Withdrawing from the account
And Tony said that, unfortunately, there are times as a leader that he has to draw upon that collateral. “A person does not have to be in a leadership role very long before they are confronted with the need to push an aggressive timeline, implement a last-minute change in direction, restructure the organization, say no to a desired promotion, provide negative feedback, give a lower-than-expected salary increase, or lay off employees. These are just a few of the types of situations where leaders must make tough decisions that serve the greater organizational good, and also have a negative (perceived or real) impact on others.” The knowledge that the leader wants the best, not just for the company as a whole, but also for individual employees, guarantees that there is something in the bank when a leader needs to draw upon those resources.
This idea of built-up currency is not just true for leadership positions, but can be applied to your network as well. Should the time come for a one-sided ask, whether it’s promoting your new book or requesting an introduction, you are likely to receive a better answer if they can feel the authenticity from past investments.
Knowing your own balance sheet
Finally, the primary step in investing without using people is all about you. It involves knowing what your motivations and goals are. If the goal is an external affirmation, financial gain, or career promotion, it is almost unavoidable to use people. Mutual growth and development are not enough when the goal is entirely one-sided. However, Tony said that knowing your assets and sticking within your areas of strength can provide the necessary fulfillment.
That being said, he also warned against the opposite extreme as well. Just as you should not get consumed with the outside feedback, there is no point in moving forward with something that is continuously causing only withdrawals. For example, while he enjoys writing articles, and there is an ebb and flow on the feedback he receives, he said that if it ever dried up completely, then he would post elsewhere. Positive feedback and engagement are not the sole reasons he writes, but he recognizes that they are part of the big picture. It is a matter of cost versus benefit and understanding what work makes sense.
In the end, one thing is clear. It’s a balancing act, because it centers on the relationship between two humans. We are not an easy species. However, if we remember it’s a give and take, then there is hope for us. It’s not a give and demand, which creates a toxic tit-for-tat relationship. It’s not give and give because none of us are a bottomless well filled with resources. It is seeing the value in those around us and investing our time, energy, finances, or whatever part of ourselves in them, and them freely doing the same. That is the path to growth and strengthening the currency of each other.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.