I’ve been a student of business relationships for the past decade and two different client executives recently asked me about key trends, observations, lessons or “truths,” I’ve noticed over the years. Here are ten (10) lessons that have stood the test of business relationship time, company, functional role, and industry from my first consulting engagement almost a decade ago and today. Many are from my best clients – tough, smart, and creative in us working together to improve their condition (outcome vs. the busy work so many value such as time, units, deliverables, or methodology, which are all input!)

1. Excuses are cultural roadblocks. Instead of everyone talking about “how we did it before and it didn’t work,” or “that’ll never work,” guide the conversation and thus the relationship in the direction of how we can make it work.

2. Companies are fundamentally made of people and both must change to evolve. That means relationships – their tenure, nature, function, impact will all change. Instead of being the headwind, find ways to tune and move forward with the changes.

3. Relationship success comes from experience (skills + knowledge + behavior). Practice with those closest to you to learn, so that you can apply those experiences with those you don’t know as well when you must! #NeverStopGrowing!

4. Peter Drucker was spot on – EVERY business is about innovation and marketing. Guess what? So are relationships. Except I’d rephrase them as credibility and relevance!

5. Grand Canyon-size difference between what “mahogany row” thinks is happening in the field vs. what’s really going on in the “mail room!” As executives move up the organization, they become administratively boggled, a hindrance to decision making and lose their finger on the pulse of what’s really happening at the edge of the business.

6. Relationships are less about titles and more about influence, execution, and results. Beyond what is written on someone’s card, learn as quickly as you can, and invest in getting to know those who have or can make the three attributes above happen!

7. Relationships are between individuals, never offices, logos, or titles. Get to know as many people within the organization for who they are, not just what they do. It will help you empathize with their daily roles & realm of responsibilities.

8. I once heard that great leaders bring ordinary people together to achieve extraordinary results. I would submit that those results come from the breadth, depth, and the quality of those relationships – within as well as external to the organization.

9. Beyond your educational foundation, the quality of the relationships you identify, build, nurture and capitalize will become your biggest off-balance sheet asset! Relationship currency, reputation capital, and professional net worth are highly undervalued soft personal and organizational assets!

10. Great decisions are derived from mistakes and failures. Build real relationships around you to act as your safety net when a decision goes bad, so you can learn from it and move forward to the next opportunity.

The greatest lessons in business and life, come from our most valuable relationships. Learn from as many as you can, as often as you can. Never forget that every interaction is a learning opportunity.

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