Nothing matters more than relationships in your career. This is why.
How much control do we actually have over the path we carve in our career? Ever thought about that? I’ve spent the past 7 months ruminating on exactly this as I build my new company Wurqs, that hopes to support young professionals in building a life and career. In doing so, there is one notion I’ve come to believe is truly fundamental.
“Our relationships are the owners of our reputation, growth and opportunity”
I’ve always been incredibly driven, motivated and ambitious, but I have realised that if you take away the relationships I’ve built over the years, I really wouldn’t have gotten very far. It’s those relationships that have helped me become better at what I do, opened doors I never thought could be opened, and allowed my work to reach places I could have only dreamed of. Without being conscious of my choice to do so, I have always respected how little control I have over my reputation, growth and opportunity. Now being more conscious of this choice, I think it is important to add colour.
Despite the notion of ‘growing your reputation’, this actually isn’t something you control. Abraham Lincoln famously said “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” We can choose our own actions and attitudes, but we cannot choose how they are received and processed by the people around us. Perception is everything. Reputation isn’t something you can manipulate to your favour either. You can’t pretend to be thoughtful, caring or smart. If it isn’t genuine, whoever you are trying to influence will see straight through it.
Personal growth and development will always be inhibited without feedback. We can choose what we want to do and where we want to go, but ultimately we’re choosing to grow in isolation if we fail to accept the input of others. The sign of true growth is when the result of said growth impacts and uplifts the people around us; by becoming a better manager, leader and colleague. Self improvement might sound like something incredibly personal and selfish, but the reality is is that we are designing and dictating how we function at work and in society — and we can’t do that without others.
I only came to the realisation recently that I’ve never secured a job by ‘applying’ for it. That is, every job I’ve ever had has come about as a result of a direct relationship with the people that ended up hiring me. I don’t believe that I am totally unique in this, and I do believe this will only become more common as the world finds more ways to connect. Opportunity lands at your feet; it can’t be ‘extracted’ from your relationships. The nature and strength of your relationships is what will dictate access to opportunity. Regardless of all your hustle or talent, ultimately your future jobs, business partnerships, and hires are all dictated by people asking “do I trust this person?”, “would I work with this person?” and “do I like this person?”.
How to get better at relationships overnight
When our relationships hold such influence on our success and careers, why is the advice we take so geared towards hustling and skilling up, and the platforms and tools we use so focussed on tapping into our innate narcissism? It’s not all about us; it’s about them!
I’ve spent some time thinking about my own attitudes and philosophies towards building relationships in my career, and I think it can be distilled into 4 simple rules. I believe if anyone was to adopt these same rules and attitudes, they’d recognise the impact not just on their success and progress, but on their life as a whole too.
- Build relationships before you need them — If you’re only just meeting investors the moment you need investment, or trying to meet the woman you want to work for the moment you’re looking for a job, you’re facing an uphill battle. Make meeting people and not caring who they are part of your weekly routine.
- Be helpful before being helped — I have a personal rule that I will never ask someone for help until I feel like I’ve been helpful to them first. This isn’t a hard and fast guideline, but for me ensures I never for one moment take that person for granted — regardless of whether they’re a fortune 500 CEO or a young graduate looking for a job.
- Be curious, and listen— It’s not hard to want to learn more about the people you meet. Not only could you learn a lot from them, but you could find yourself inspired in unexpected ways. Genuine curiosity is always paired with good listening. It will show if you really want to get to know someone, or feel a sense of obligation to ask questions.
- Stop selling yourself — The best way to sell yourself, is to not. No-one is impressed by your number of followers or the TEDx talk you did. Just be a thoughtful, engaging human and that is all the selling you’ll need.
Our first product Ping hopes to become the indispensable professional relationships tool. We’d love if you could give us a go! It’s early doors, but we have big plans afoot. Look forward to your feedback.