Secrets to success

Why leaders need to invest in their professional relationships

Reading time:  3 Minutes

To succeed in today’s world, it’s not enough to just ‘get things done’. Here, professional relationships specialist Andy Lopata explains why it’s so important for small business’ leaders to build and regularly nurture their network

Look back at your career journey to date, and I can pretty much guarantee that at each step of the way, somebody has been there to lower their hand and raise you up, or give you a boost from below. That’s not to dismiss the hard work and talent that has been integral to your success. But the vast majority of business leaders achieve great heights with the help of other people.

Mentors may have given you the benefit of their experience, advocates and sponsors opened doors by talking to the right people, clients will have given insight and shown loyalty, staff offered feedback and helped to win colleagues over to your agenda. Whatever hurdles you faced, they became easier to overcome if you had the right people around you.

That doesn’t stop when you reach a leadership position. If you think of most of the challenges facing leaders, and you can see how other people can play a key role in finding the solution. Just as business development becomes easier when influential people make introductions, introducing change in your organisation runs more smoothly when you know what your workforce is thinking, and how to shape your message to best engage your team members with the journey you are taking together.

Relationships are key

While professional relationships play a pivotal role in leadership success, the skills and strategy lying behind those relationships are often treated as afterthoughts and relationships are left to chance. But if professional relationships underpin so many areas of leadership and career success, surely they merit the same amount of attention we give to other facets of the business?

To effectively tap into the power of professional relationships, leaders need three things: a network of people who are in a position to help; a network of people who want to help; and a network of people who know how and when to help. And that leads to three steps to building that powerful network.

A three-step plan

Start by developing relationships with the right people. I encourage clients to approach this with a ‘blended’ mindset, achieving the right balance of a strategic approach – attracting people who could play a key role in helping them achieve their objectives – with a relational approach – finding others with whom they share mutual interests, have a strong rapport with or whose company they just enjoy.

Once that network is in place, it’s important to nurture it. In today’s fast-paced world, it is so easy to let relationships slip. Follow-up is vital, as is staying in sight and in mind. This is where social media comes into its own. The ability to like, comment and share on sites such as LinkedIn lets us show support when we can’t see each other personally. For me, the golden rule is that 90% of your touchpoints should be about the other person and not about you.

Finally, leverage those networks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to admit that you don’t know the answers. There’s little value in building a strong network of people to help you if you don’t let them know when you need that help.

This is not about asking people you’ve just met and it’s never a quid pro quo. Help others without expectation of return and be willing to ask for help from those with whom you have developed a strong relationship.

Without the right professional relationships and the willingness to ask for help, you are going to find it so much harder to grow and progress. With them, you have the ability to achieve your full potential in your role and in your career.

Andy Lopata is a specialist in professional relationships and networking with more than 20 years’ experience. He was named ‘one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists’ by the Financial Times. Lopata is a fellow and a board member of the Professional Speaking Association UK & Ireland and a fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute as well as a Master of the Institute for Sales Management. He is the author of five books, including Connected Leadership

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