Berkshire Hathaway held another incredibly successful annual Shareholders’ meeting in Omaha last week; that prompted writer William Green to post on LinkedIn his ten all-time favorite insights from Warren Buffett. I submit that each of these quotes from the brilliant investor offer supremely valuable advice regarding the investments we all should make in our strategic relationships.
WB1: “Unconditional Love Is Huge In This World”
Warren Buffett’s father had an incredible love for him, regardless of what he did or how he did it. That unconditional love gave him the confidence to do great things. Even our business relationships need to feel our love. But “unconditional” is really difficult in our western performance-driven culture. What does unconditional love look like in business relationships? Thank you cards. Thoughtful gifts. Knowing and talking about each other’s passions. I have a client who brews his own beer; another who loves boats like I love motorcycles. Love in a business context means integrating your personal life and your professional life, with an instinct for what is welcomed and appropriated. Don’t just have dinner with a client—invite your spouses to join you, or invite him or her to your home. It may not be part of our western performance-above-all approach, but my recent trip to Dubai reiterated that for much of the world, business culture is fundamentally relationship-centric.
WB2: “I Don’t Work To Collect Money.”
Buffett reminds us it is more important to love what you do than to collect capital. This is a lot easier when you work with relationships you enjoy; life is too short not to work with people you like, respect, and trust. The challenge becomes, how do you integrate “enjoyability” as part of the recruiting process? How do you integrate that into your onboarding or performance management? There are relationship components to each. It’s easy to lose the connection between business processes and the people component if you don’t hold a focus on loving what you do.
WB3: “Live Your Life By an Inner Scorecard”
Be true to yourself, and don’t compromise your values. Relationships are a good litmus test of that inner scorecard. Do people you surround yourself with enhance your values or do they dilute them? Do you really HAVE an inner scorecard? We build that scorecard through our interactions with others. We see what they do; we model our own behavior based on theirs; we identify that which we are attracted to and that which repels us.
WB4: “Hang Out with People Who are Better than You”
Give thought to definitions—Better than you in what? Is it competencies? Capabilities? Where are your growing edges, and who might shore them up if some of what they know rubs off on you? Look for people who are better than you in the manner in which they build and nurture relationships. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Pay attention to their behaviors, which speak at far greater volume than what they say they do.
WB5: “You’ve Got to Keep Control of Your Time”
Buffett said in a letter rejecting a request, “every interview I grant results in about 20 more requests. That’s a geometric progression that I have no inclination to foster.” It goes back to thinking about a relationship as an investment. You cannot afford to invest in everybody equally. How will you prioritize who and where to invest in?
WB6: “It Takes Twenty Years To Build A Reputation And Five Minutes To Ruin It”
Fundamentally, Buffett is speaking about relationships. I submit that nurturing a relationship is similar to chess: try to think two or three moves ahead. “If I do that, what is he likely to do? When he does that, what is my next step?” If you keep that in mind, it may prompt you to behave differently. If more of us thought about two or three steps forward, we might be less inclined to take advantage of someone, or be short-sighted, or think in terms of transactions instead of transformative outcomes for others.
WB7: “Stick Within Your Circle of Competence”
Focus on playing to your strengths and ignore everything else. Your circle of competence is identified with, and fueled by, your relationships. There are certain things I’m competent at, but those competencies come to life when I apply them in my engagement with others. This is why it is critical to have a feedback loop mechanism in your relationships. Going back and asking clients, “What did you like in working with me? What could we have improved on in working together?” Those are part of developing your competencies. Beyond your educational foundation and your professional pedigree, your relationships often develop, nurture, enhance, and elevate, your competencies.
WB8: “Predicting Rain Doesn’t Count. Building Arks Does”
Prepare for adversity. It is when you face adversity that your relationships become valuable as signal scouts. They are the ones who can guide you to faint signals of the dangers around you; the ones who can help you identify and respond to the challenges ahead. It’s a lot easier for you to build your “ark”—your margins of safety—with some guidance, input, feedback, experience, village knowledge, all of which come from your relationships.
WB9: “Nice People Come In All Colors”
Diversity in your relationships has less to do with their skin color and more to do with diversity of thought. My friend Jim Rodgers talks about Deliberate Diversity™; what I appreciate in his conversations with executives that I’ve been part of is how he emphasizes that diversity of thought, diversity of lens, of healthy skepticism. (“Wait, why are we doing that again?”) Color is just pigment. What really matters is a unique or an independent perspective.
WB10: “The More You Give Love Away, The More You Get”
And now we’re circling back to WB1: even our business relationships need love. But I’m also reminded of something my parents drove into me early on: We’ve all heard some variation of it. People will prioritize people they know, like, and trust. This is especially true within our business relationships. To “give love away” is hard from a distance. Particularly if you work remotely, or if you need the support of other people who are at a distance from you, make time to get face-to-face. Travel to visit them. Engage them. Be a part of their lives. You’ll find they are part of yours—and you are work better together as a result.
Thank you Mr. Buffett, by way of William Green, for the opportunity to apply these lessons for living to building relationship capital.
- Seek unconditional love for the work you do and the people you do it with and for—your strategic business relationships. Get love flowing through your personal and professional life.
- Know your inner scorecard (values); so you can surround yourself with people who expand your understanding of those values, and seek feedback to elevate your own.
- Prioritize how you invest your time, so you can nurture relationships that build your competency, act as your signal scouts, and bring you greater diversity of thought.