It seems like we’re all just a click away from communicating with the most influential people in our industries. We can get “linked in” to potential employers across the country. We can be Facebook friends with former colleagues we haven’t spoken to in years. The degrees of separation between us and the movers and shakers have collapsed. And yet, are any of these so-called relationships real? Will any of these online connections actually go out on a limb to help you? Will they actually take an interest in your success? And ultimately, will they get you to where you want to go?
Probably not. The acquisition of hundreds of social media contacts and endless but superficial networking have replaced the cultivation of deep, meaningful relationships with clients, colleagues, and even with friends and family.
It’s not just the distraction of social media that is getting in the way. It is genuinely tougher than it’s ever been to build the trusted relationships you need to thrive in your career.
Getting in front of C-suite executives and real influencers is incredibly difficult. They could fill 24 hours of every day with meetings. Trying to connect on LinkedIn or cold emailing them won’t do the trick. Just as an airplane must respect the laws of physics in order to fly, your behaviors must align with certain laws if you want to build the critical relationships you need to succeed.
Forming such relationships comes with four major challenges:
- To connect with people who are crazy-busy and have put up walls to protect their time
- To become relevant to senior executives and other influencers who won’t give you a second chance if the first conversation doesn’t light a spark
- To resonate with others on an emotional level and create a deep personal connection that brings you into their inner circle
- To make an impact and leave an indelible mark on those most important to you at work and at home
There are 26 irrefutable relationship laws that provide powerful insights into how to connect at the top and build deep, trusted relationships with key influencers. When you follow them, your network will grow rapidly. You’ll be seen as a trusted partner rather than an expense to be managed. And you’ll find the people around you eager to help you succeed. When you ignore the laws, however, it’s like pushing water uphill. Relationship building will seem like very hard work—even fruitless.
Two of the most critical challenges are to connect and to become relevant. Mastering both of these challenges is step one to building power relationships. Without learning how to effectively connect and show your relevance, you’ll never be able to get your foot in the door to build a long-term relationship with important people.
Connecting With the Super-Busy
Executives are overwhelmed with demands on their time. Especially if they are at a senior level, everyone wants something from them. Connecting with prospects and clients—pulling them out of their routine and getting their attention—is a huge challenge that’s only getting tougher. Here are two of the relationship laws that can help you make the connection:
Follow the person, not the position. (Law 3) Here’s a story about a client who was promoted into the C-suite at her Fortune 100 company after having been the deputy in her area for many years. During that time, the advisers and suppliers to her company had rarely spent time with her or invited her to their special events, preferring to focus on her boss, who controlled the budget. On the day her promotion was announced to the press, she suddenly got dozens of calls from these suppliers—all wanting to now do business with her.
And do you know what she asked them? “Where were you five years ago?” Truly important people often bring their advisers along with them over the years. While it is not impossible to break into someone’s inner circle after they have achieved great success, it’s also not an easy task.
Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people, even if they’re not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers.
Make them curious. (Law 18) When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They’re eager to take the next step. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible. You create curiosity and reach by showing just a bit of the glitter of the gold you have to offer. Say the unexpected. Surprise the other person with your candid answer to a tough question. Shake up their thinking by showing them a side to their problem they had not considered.
Making Yourself Relevant
The second big challenge is showing how you are relevant to the other person. Here are several laws that will help:
Walk in their shoes. (Law 9) Here, I tell the story of an investment banker who arrives at his client’s office in the middle of a large deal. He is so oblivious to his clients’ state—they’ve been working all weekend in a small conference room—that he grabs the last remaining bacon sandwich on a tray, effectively stealing his client’s lunch. That executive became the chief financial officer of his company, and the banker was banned from doing business with them for over a decade.
Our friend the banker could have avoided 10 years in the wilderness if he had done a very simple exercise: imagine what it’s like to walk in his client’s shoes. Being relevant isn’t always about the big money-making ideas. Sometimes it’s about showing people that you get their needs on the most fundamental level. You know what pressures they’re under, what they’re feeling, and yes, how hungry and tired they are. When you can walk in their shoes in small ways, you can also do it in bigger ways.
Become part of an organization’s growth. (Law 22) When there’s a downturn, or when organizations are under financial pressures, they focus on cutting discretionary expenses. But they won’t cut an investment that’s proven to help boost the bottom line. And you should be such an investment. A good starting point is a very simple question: How are you going to be evaluated at the end of the year? Then, you can ask a second, related question: How do your individual goals support the organization’s overall strategy and key priorities for this year? Once you understand their critical priorities, you can begin to demonstrate how you can help further them.
Know the other person’s agenda and help them accomplish it. (Law 5) This leads you to understand exactly what the higher-level growth goals are. Nothing makes you more relevant than showing how you are aligned with one or more of the other person’s personal priorities.
Relationships cannot be formed with the snap of your fingers or the click of a mouse. Building them takes time and effort. You have to provide a compelling answer to the question: “Why should I spend my scarce time with you?” Once you’ve tackled the challenges of connecting and showing how you’re relevant, you can move on to the other two—resonating and making an impact. But not before. Try to put the cart before the horse, and no one will ever hear you.
Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas are co-authors of Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships (Wiley, 2014). Sobel is a consultant who works with senior executives on building client relationships and loyalty. Panas is CEO of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, a consulting firm that advises nonprofit organizations on fundraising.