An important part of leadership is building your relationship network. Relationships are currency—you sometimes need to use your relationships to make deals, smooth over conflicts, and generally just get things done. Do not overlook this part of your leadership development.
Think about your social network. I like to imagine it like a bullseye target, where the closer you are to the center, the "closer" your relationship to me. The center circle is the "circle of trust," the people you might go to for completely confidential advice. These are the people you might ask for help if you were looking for a new job. The next circle contains those people who would help you with a favor. Outside that is the "parking orbit," people who are not very close to you, but with whom you are friendly; you might see them in the hallway or by the elevator, but not interact with them very much. And if you aren't in any of those circles, I call them "potential new friends," people I haven't met yet.
You can arrange your social network even further. Think of who are your personal friends, versus your friends at work. Who are your mentors, the people you look to for inspiration? And who are your peers, people with whom you interact but who are neither "personal" nor "work" friends?
Take a few moments to map out your social network. How "close" would you rate your relationships at work? Consider who you look to if you had a problem, or needed a favor, or simply had a question. Do you have relationships that are so strong you could rely on confidential advice? Do have other relationships where you might only be able to ask for a favor? Who is in your personal "parking orbit," that need a stronger relationship to you? Is there anyone out there that you wish you knew better and who in your personal shares a relationship, and might introduce you to them?
Relationships are currency, and you can use them when you need help or advice. Making friends and building relationships is an important facet of leadership, but it is often a very difficult skill. Many of us in technology are introverts. My educational background is in physics, and a physicist friend of mine often shares this joke that applies here: "What's the difference between an introverted physicist and an extroverted one? The extrovert will look at your shoes."
Let me share leadership lessons on this topic, borrowed from an unexpected place. At the risk of doing yet another leadership post post from this source, I think it actually fits well here. Because what is the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic about, if it's not about how to make friends and build relationships. That's probably one reason that the show is so popular outside its target demographic—sometimes we all just need a refresher on how to introduce ourselves to others and form that initial relationship.
There are four steps to building a relationship with someone new. These are sometimes called the "4 I's" of relationships:
Here's a brief clip showing a borderline-extroverted person meeting a definitely introverted person, overcoming an initial awkwardness to introduce herself and start a relationship. (They become great friends in the show.)
Twilight Sparkle uses the first two steps to form a bond:
- Initiate: "I'm Twilight Sparkle."
- Inquire: "What's your name?" She also asks follow-up questions to get to know the other person. Despite Fluttershy's introverted tendencies, Twilight Sparkle reaches out to get to know the new pony, making sure she heard the name right, and commenting on Fluttershy's birds in the tree.
In this case, Twilight Sparkle only has time for the first two steps. The third step, Invest, will happen over time as Twilight Sparkle continues to renew her friendship with Fluttershy through activities, adventures … or even just a discussion on a sunny afternoon. Over time, Twilight Sparkle can rely on that relationship to inspire Fluttershy to do great things.
You can use the same method of Initiate, Inquire, Invest, Inspire to build your own relationship networks. The more people you know, the better you can navigate your organization and get things done. But don't let your relationships grow stale; fins opportunities to renew your friendships. If you call from someone in your relationship network, take a few moments to catch up before getting down to the task at hand. Or simply call or visit that other person, just to say hi and see what's up. These short moments help to build up your relationship currency.