IMG_6391I was in Washington, DC recently working with a great client on transforming a critical part of their business. I brought my recently-launched information visualization practice into the engagement, and so accompanying me to DC was a colleague who is our Creative Director. We got talking about some common traits of truly great relationships.

I have spent close to two decades now coaching, consulting, and thinking about people who effectively build relationships inside and outside their organizations; here are seven (7) observations of what extraordinary business relationship builders do consistently to create great success:

  1. Becoming an object of interest: If you focus on putting your body of work out there—your ideas, perspectives, unique approaches to solving complex problems—those who matter will seek you out!
  2. Quickly identifying and engaging visionary relationships: The more you shift your focus from your own best interests to others’, the more opportunity is going to come your way. Develop the art of recognizing executives who not only have a challenge or opportunity to address, but also have the willingness and the ability to address them with net-new thinking. An executive with an attitude of “if it wasn’t invented here, it won’t work” makes a poor innovative relationship. Seek those who are willing to build strategic relationships outside the company.
  3. Offering immediate and mutual exchange of value: Think about it: your prospective new relationships don’t really know what value you can add until they experience it first hand. Giving them a taste of how you would frame a challenge or leverage an opportunity reduces their perceived risks in investing time, effort and resources with you.
  4. Trusting from the start: For both sides in any business relationship to seek a vested interest in each other’s success, a number of traits have to be present right from the start. I look for respect, credibility, flexibility, candor, conviction, selflessness… these are among the behaviors that nurture trust, and that leads to an interest in creating mutual value.
  5. Agreeing on outcomes: Perhaps you’ve heard me say, “Relationships go bad with misaligned expectations!” You need mutual agreement on the outcomes each party seeks. What’s in it for them and how will they be better off because of the strategy you jointly develop? Likewise, what’s in it for you? Agreement must go beyond strategy to align around outcomes: action-oriented execution, speed of implementation, and agility when the strategy must shift.
  6. Partnering in a creative process: Each chef knows his own kitchen best. Before you try to address someone else’s problems, realize they have unique domain expertise. They know their environment better than you ever could. What you bring is the unique, unbiased perspective of someone fresh to that environment and situation. You can help them think and lead differently and thus deliver transformative results.
  7. Encouraging rapid failure for rapid learning: The people I know who are most effective in building relationships have a very high tolerance for risk and an extraordinary willingness to fail. That is the only way truly visionary leaders and great relationships actually move forward. Personal and professional growth are achieved, with the added bonus of allowing others to learn from their experiences. These superstars of strategic relationships bring their teams along for the journey.

Only when leaders and their teams align with these traits of great relationships, are their organizations able to evolve, prosper or otherwise thrive! Will there be the typical overt or even covert pushback from those who are hell-bent on defending the status quo? Sure. Just keep your head down and stay focused on delivering results. That’s how relationships become strategic.

If you can develop your behavior in alignment with these seven traits, you and your strategic relationships can move beyond simply working together for a reason, toward working together for a season, to ultimately, seeing value in the relationship and working together over a lifetime!

Nour Takeaways

  1. People who effectively build relationships develop a knack for identifying visionary executives, becoming an object of interest to them, and quickly creating a mutual exchange of value.
  1. These effective relationship-builders learn to align expectations for agreed-on outcomes, becoming true partners in a creative process.
  1. Ultimately, the people who are most effective at building relationships are fearless about risk and failure, because they recognize this is the only way to make significant forward progress.


David Nour Keynote ImageDavid Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® – the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Siemens, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics – Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on ImpactLeadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at

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