If you’ve ever heard me speak, I often talk about the three types of relationships we must develop in an effort to both enhance the quality and the diversity in our portfolio of relationships: personal, functional and strategic.

  • Personal relationships are often the easiest because they’re discretionary yet seldom relevant to our professional lives. These are poker and golf buddies, girlfriends, PTA or soccer parents.
  • Functional relationships are the ones we work with because we have to; let’s be honest, some of our clients and colleagues. They may not be discretionary as we often don’t or can’t pick who we work with, but they’re still safe because of the context of the relationship. They’re focused on efficiency and effectiveness; in essence, our ability to get things done.
  • Most people get the first two and they have plenty of the first two. It’s the last one they miss out on, which are our strategic relationships. By definition, they elevate our thinking, our perspective, our beliefs in our selves, and our resolve to reach above and beyond our perceived limitations. They possess a certain future horizon context about them, as they’ve seen the movie and have been in the pitfalls we’re headed for.

So how do you get there? How do you develop and nurture the right relationships along a continuum to elevate them above the others? How do you become a strategic relationship to others? I’ve identified five stages of relationship development in bridging relationship creation to relationship capitalization:

  • Initiating – 2nd Interaction – Nurturing – Sustaining and Capitalizing

Along the way, six stages will force you to consistently, intently, and strategically exchange Relationship Currency®, earn Reputation Capital®, and develop your Professional Net Worth®:

1. Trust-Centric Introductions – Dialing for dollars is a losing proposition. Relationships are getting more sophisticated, better protected, and constantly pressured for efficiency and effectiveness. By far the best way to spark the potential for a strategic relationship is through trust-centric introductions. When trusted and valued relationships introduce you, you immediately benefit from credibility by association. Chose your sources of access wisely for if they dilute their credibility, so will be limited your options in disengaging yourself from that association.

2. Repeat Confidence – Although you may have gained access through confidence in others, most relationships test one another very early on. When you perform, deliver on your commitments, demonstrate not just competence (table stakes) but a genuine caring, you earn repeat confidence. The more impactful the test, the higher the elevation of your relationship development slope.

3. Unquestionable Integrity – In our current low-trust environment, you or your organization is surely to slip up, make a mistake, or suffer from a poor judgment. It doesn’t matter that you failed – two points which matter are:

a. Whether the failure was blameworthy or praiseworthy – see Failing Intently chapter in my new book Return on Impact: Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships (ASAE, 2012) and reference to professor Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School.

b. What you and your organization chose to do after the failure. To error is human. What elevate relationships to a strategic level are the decisions you make to learn from the failure and move the relationship onward and upward. Humility and open, candid apologies go a long way. Time also becomes an incredible healer of relationship wounds.

4. Custodial Pride – If you have small children, you certainly understand the overwhelming feeling of paternal pride when they accomplish milestones in their growth; straight As on the last report card, the wining goal at the last soccer game, the blue ribbon at the last spelling bee. Business relationships likewise, reach a pivotal point in their development when one or both parties develop a sense of custodial pride in working, going to market, referring, jointly developing, collaborating, creating, integrating, or otherwise being associated with one another.

5. Personal Passion – An amplified business relationship benefits from an innate sense of passion about the respective success of both parties. You’re no longer a logo, a purchase order, or a project. You’ve become emotionally engaged around the jointly desired outcome of your relationship. For the first time, you get the sense that through the good, the bad, and even the ugly scenarios, you’re considerably better off together than you are apart. Laymen’s term for this may be “ying & yang,” or more formal collaborative structures such as joint ventures or a merger or acquisition event.

6. Unsolicited Vested Interest – The pinnacle stage in your path to developing a lasting and highly impactful strategic relationship is one of unsolicited vested interest. When the other party goes out of their way to introduce you into highly desirable or difficult to penetrate circles of influence; when they invite you to private events with exponentially higher profile attendees, when they share ultra confidential insights, when they invite you into their inner circle, these are all evidence of an unsolicited vested interest in both you personally as well as your professional success.

By the way, your performance, execution and results will accelerate your accent along this path, and lack there of will surely dilute your credibility, priority, and relevance. Make no mistake about it: performance trumps all. You have to be competent, capable and your value-delivered must match the value-promised.

How will you elevate your most valuable relationships from function and often, transactional today, to strategic and truly transformational over the next year, decade, or lifetime? Join us for the upcoming IMPACT Webinar Series to learn more…

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